Yesterday, a merger between two of nation’s largest and most prominent media organisations was announced, with Nine completing a takeover of Fairfax to the tune of $4 billion. This shock move positions the new entity (which will be known as Nine Entertainment Co, or NEC) as perhaps the biggest fish in the Australian media pond, but there has been plenty of backlash in the press over the last 24 hours. Why is this the case?
Fairfax has been an institution in this country for more than 150 years. Launched in 1831, The Sydney Morning Herald is the nation’s oldest masthead, while The Age has been around since 1854. If the merger wasn’t difficult enough for rusted on supporters to deal with, the fact that the Fairfax name will be scrapped entirely is rubbing salt into the wound. While it’s hardly a surprising decision (Nine does have a 51.1 per cent controlling share of the new business), it still seems bold to eradicate a brand name synonymous with journalism in Australia.
Fairfax has seen its fair share of self-inflicted staff turnover in the last decade. In fact, it was only 14 months ago that journalists at The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald and the Brisbane Times walked off the job for seven days during the Federal Budget after Fairfax announced they would slash 25 per cent of editorial jobs in their metropolitan newsrooms. However, they are now entering a whole new period of uncertainty given the different journalistic approaches of the two mergers as fears mount that more cuts are imminent.
The fourth estate
For decades, the cross media laws implemented by Bob Hawke ensured a certain degree of diversity in the Australian media landscape, and while News Corp and Fairfax were still the major players, the public was well informed enough to engage in robust discussion. Since these measures were abolished by the Turnbull Government, it was inevitable that this kind of merger would take place. For the sake of the Australian electorate, let’s hope that people are continually presented with objective reporting, regardless of the size of the cheque book.