APN Australian Regional Media CEO Neil Monaghan with a copy of the Daily Mercury
APN Australian Regional Media CEO Neil Monaghan with a copy of the Daily Mercury Kevin Farmer

Media boss says readers will be the winners in News Corp deal

UPDATE: THE path has been cleared for the sale of Australian Regional Media - owner of this masthead title - to News Corp.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) this morning announced it would not oppose the proposed acquisition by News of ARM from APN News and Media.

News Corp moved quickly to demonstrate how ARM, the biggest regional publisher in Queensland and northern New South Wales, would be integrated into its business.

News Corp Australasia executive chairman Michael Miller said ARM's chief executive, Neil Monaghan, would move into the newly-created role of News Corp Australia's managing director, regional media.

ARM head since 2013, he will be responsible for leading the combined regional assets of News and ARM, and will report to Damian Eales, managing director, metro and regional publishing.

They were already working on an integration process and towards naming their regional leadership team.

Mr Monaghan said ARM readers -- of the company's 12 daily newspapers, more than 60 community titles and 30 websites - could be assured they would get a better deal.

"The range of stories, video and content available to our titles will expand rapidly,'' Mr Monaghan said. ''This can only benefit our valuable readers.''

He said paper and website readers could soon expect better sport, state, nation and world coverage.

''We have focussed almost exclusively in building capability in our local newsrooms. If you subscribe to us in Mackay, Toowoomba or Lismore, we have more reporters than anyone locally.''

But the compromise had been less investment in other content segments. ''The great news breakers and opinion writers that News Corp has in its stable should soon start to appear in our titles, making them even stronger.''

The ACCC, in its decision this morning, said it could see no barriers to the deal, worth $36.6m going ahead.

It had invited feedback from readers and advertisers after releasing a Statement of Issues in October. The ACCC's focus was on how ARM's paid regional newspapers and News' The Courier Mail competed for readers, and the extent of competition between overlapping News and ARM community newspapers in south-east Queensland.

"The ACCC reviewed the acquisition very closely, as News and ARM are the two largest newspaper publishers in Queensland. However, feedback from readers raised very few concerns and suggested that there is not close competition between the paid daily Queensland papers published by News and ARM," ACCC Chairman Rod Sims said.

"ARM's paid daily regional newspapers focus mostly on regional and local news and there is limited overlap with The Courier Mail which focuses on greater-Brisbane, state, and national news. Furthermore, readers are increasingly reading online sources of news, where there are alternatives to News and ARM."

The ACCC also contacted over 600 small businesses and advertising agencies which advertise in News and ARM publications in Queensland and Northern New South Wales.

In relation to community newspapers, the ACCC investigated competition between News and ARM in Caboolture/Bribie Island, south west Brisbane, Brisbane northern bayside, Logan, Tweed Heads, and the southern Gold Coast. The competitive overlap between News and ARM in these areas relates to papers that are generally weekly, delivered for free, and have a strong local focus.

"This transaction will mean that readers in those areas who still value a community newspaper format are likely to face reduced choice. However, the ACCC concluded that, overall, a sufficient range of local news choices and advertising options would remain available in these areas, with Fairfax and independent local newspapers in some local areas, competing online options, as well as local radio news," Mr Sims said.

The ACCC said declining readership and reduced advertising revenues for hard-copy publications were important factors in its assessment.

News Corp's Mr Miller, a former CEO of APN, welcomed the decision.

"The decision to invest in ARM shows News Corp Australia's commitment to the news media and publishing; to our regional and community audiences and to the growth regions of Queensland and north-east New South Wales.

"ARM's publications have a long and proud history of serving their communities in Queensland and NSW - they share many of the same values which News cherishes. We both share a heritage of investing ourselves in local communities, providing leadership and connection to the issues that matter.''

The acquisition will now proceed to the Foreign Investment Review Board for approval. The deal is on track to be completed by the end of the month.