Full steam ahead for media merger appeal
By Pattrick Smellie
Oct. 5 (BusinessDesk) - New Zealand's two largest news publishers have confirmed they are committed to pursuing their appeal against the Commerce Commission's rejection of the proposal to merge their operations.
NZX-listed NZME and Stuff, the recently renamed New Zealand arm of ASX-listed Fairfax Media, applied to merge in 2015, arguing the downside of more concentrated local media ownership would be offset by the merged entity's greater ability to survive the global competition for local advertising dollars caused by the rise of online search and social media giants such as Google and Facebook.
In a decision issued on May 3 and following a series of public hearings, the commission concluded the merger would have too detrimental an impact on media 'plurality' - the number of competing sources of reporting and opinion that it argued was essential to the media's role as an important element of a well-functioning democracy.
Stuff's chief executive Sinead Boucher and NZME's chief executive Michael Boggs confirmed to BusinessDesk by separate emails that the merger partners are committed to the appeal, which is set down for a 10-day hearing in the Wellington High Court from Monday, Oct. 16.
Fairfax and NZME filed their appeal on May 26, claiming the regulator was wrong in fact and in law in rejecting the merger.
Russell McVeagh has retained David Goddard QC to represent the media companies, having successfully argued against opposition to the Commerce Commission's authorisation of a national wool scouring monopoly. That decision became part of the backbone of the commission's decision to decline the NZME/Fairfax proposal.