The people at Fairfax are calling it a merger but as a consumer of print media out here in the not very high powered world of not corporate finance, it looks like an unconditional surrender, all weapons laid down; we'll even shoot some of our own if that helps. The slogan across the masthead of the Sydney Morning Herald which reads: "Independent Always", I expect will be replaced or removed as soon as possible because within the day, the people at Nine Entertainment Group were already talking about consolidating the news room and that can only mean that either Fairfax people are going to be brought on board at Nine, or more than likely, there will be cuts across both news rooms.
The legislation which allowed this merger/hostile takeover, was passed a fair while ago while the sharks at News Limited were circling around Notwork Ten. Channel 10 and One had previously suffered having Lachlan Murdoch on its board and had their prime pieces of broadcast assets of the V8Supercars, Formula One and the AFL stripped away from them. It was expected that News Limited was going to buy Notwork Ten but n that would have meant a change in the media ownership rules, which Nick Xenophon gladly traded away for some magic beans. Then News Limited lost interest and Notwork Ten was swooped in on by an American media company.
Once that legislation door had been kicked in, yesterday's announcement was made possible. It was just that nobody could have forseen (except for everyone in the world) that Fairfax was hæmorrhaging money like a mad thing. There should have also been some government oversight of a transaction like this, considering that this is one newspaper group in an effective duopoly being bought out by one of only a few television networks in a very rapidly concentrating media market but when the Communications Minister is Mitch Fiefeld and the Chairman of Nine is former Treasurer Peter Costello and Mitch's former boss (Mitch Fiefeld worked as a staffer under Peter Costello while he was Treasurer), then the expected amount of due diligence and caution was always going to be exactly zero.
It should be deeply worrying to everyone in the country that we now have one newspaper group controlled by a family who helped to set up a political party and the other newspaper group which is now effectively chaired by the former second in command of that same political party. If the constant barrage of the other side of politics wasn't immediately obvious and the constant calls to destroy the ABC wasn't also obvious, then it's going to get a heck of a lot worse. I fully expect that within six months, Fairfax's former newspapers will be singing from the same hymn sheet as News Limited's. It will become a case of Tweedledum and Tweedledumber.
The surrender and suicide of Fairfax now means that the ABC is more important than ever. News Limited's calls of bias will only get louder as they try to prosecute their case and the ABC now basically stands almost alone as a slightly leftist island in an ocean of rightist media with functional fascist sharks circling it.
I have lived long enough and experienced enough of history to see that late stage capitalism looks very similar to late stage communism. The biggest difference is that under late stage capitalism there isn't even the pretense that the oligarchs and kleptoplutocrats have any responsibility to the nation. The shrinking of media ownership should be troubling to anyone concerned about the future of democracy because where Fairfax used to hold the government to account (albeit through the prism of the economic right), now that the chairman is an ex-member of parliament and presumably still part of the political machinery, then that must surely change as night follows day.
To be perfectly honest I am actually surprised that in 2018 we are having this issue at all. I was expecting Fairfax to collapse in a heap long before now, given that their share price has been falling like a skier in the opening title sequence of Ski Sunday, for a very long time. I still expect that newspapers generally will continue to lose money because the collection of news is expensive and people's willingness to pay for good journalism has also been falling ever since the invention of the internet. My hope though, is that Fairfax will retain some of its character and won't go the way of News Limited's newspapers and fill newspapers with rubbish as per the tabloids (The Herald-Sun, Courier-Mail, Daily Telegraph, and Adelaide Advertiser) or propaganda opinion pieces posing as news like News Limited's broadsheet (The Australian) does.
Of course I realise my inherent hypocrisy here but this is a blog and the whole thing is nothing but opinion pieces. This however is not a newspaper. I am worried that Fairfax's former newspapers might also not be newspapers in future.