Finance $4 billion Fairfax-Nine merger approved as Shorten raises concerns over media concentration

$4 billion Fairfax-Nine merger approved as Shorten raises concerns over media concentration

More than 80 per cent of Fairfax shareholders voted in favour of the merger.
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Fairfax Media shareholders have overwhelmingly voted in favour of a merger with Nine Entertainment, with 81.5 per cent approving of plans for the two companies to integrate by the end of the year.

The deal came as Labor leader Bill Shorten weighed in with concerns the merger would reduce media diversity and lead to job losses. 

The arrangement will give Nine control of Fairfax’s 59 per cent stake in the fast-growing real estate listings website Domain, newspapers The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, The Australian Financial Review and Canberra Times, radio interests in Macquarie Media, online publisher HuffPost Australia, and a 50 per cent video streaming television platform Stan.

Subject to court approval of the deal on November 27, Fairfax shareholders will receive 0.327 Nine shares plus 2.5 cents – a total value of 83.4 cents — for each Fairfax share they own.  The shares traded at 63 cents on the Australian Stock Exchange on Monday. 

Assuming court approvals are made, the new company, to be called Nine, will begin trading on the exchange on December 10. The merger has already been approved by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

Diversity a casualty

The Fairfax-Nine amalgamation marks the first act of media consolidation after the Turnbull government changed cross-media ownership laws last year. 

However, Labor’s Mr Shorten expressed concerns over the further concentration of media assets.

“When you create greater concentration of media power, diversity will be the casualty,’” Mr Shorten said. 

“I will certainly be keeping this media organisation as honest as we can, making sure that regional outlets and jobs are not lost for working journalists. 

“In my opinion, when you have greater concentration you see a diminution of diversity. It makes it more important to stand up for an independent national broadcaster. 

“Now more than ever, with decreasing media competition, we need to have a strong ABC. 

“Independent and properly funded, that’s why Labor, if elected, will reverse the Morrison government cuts to the ABC.”

Farewell to Fairfax

The $4 billion Fairfax-Nine merger marks the end of an era, with the Fairfax name disappearing from the media landscape after 177 years. 

The company was founded by John Fairfax, who first bought The Sydney Morning Herald in 1841. 

The Fairfax family retained control of the business until 1990, when the company collapsed under the weight of debts worth $1.7 billion and a receiver was appointed. 

In late 2011, John B. Fairfax ended the family’s involvement when he sold sits remaining 9.7 per cent stake in Fairfax Media for $189 million.

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