“This takeover reduces media diversity. It harms the ability of an independent media to scrutinise and investigate the powerful, threatens the functioning of a healthy democracy, undermines the quality journalism that our communities rely on for information.”
— MEAA Media federal president Marcus Strom
More than 1100 people have made submissions through MEAA to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission expressing concerns about the proposed takeover of Fairfax Media by Nine Entertainment Co.
The submissions were made via an online tool hosted on the MEAA website after the ACCC invited members of the public to have their say on the $2 billion-plus takeover.
MEAA’s Media section has also made submission which urges the ACCC to oppose the merger as it contravenes the Australian Competition and Consumer Law.
MEAA argues the merger would substantially lessen competition and diversity in the media industry, is anti-democratic, and any public benefit is outweighed by the public detriment.
MEAA chief executive Paul Murphy said the 1147 submissions passed onto the ACCC by MEAA far exceeded expectations.
“It’s a sign of how much this takeover is against the public interest that more than 1100 people felt compelled to send a submission to the ACCC,” Mr Murphy said. “The ACCC must seriously take these views into account when considering whether to allow the takeover to proceed.
“This is a takeover that will change the face of Australia’s media forever by creating a cross-platform giant that will reach every corner of our nation and which will control newspapers and websites, television and radio stations in our two largest cities.
“There is no question that the Nine takeover of Fairfax will reduce diversity in Australia’s media, which is already one of the most concentrated in the democratic world.
“We also hold concerns about what it will mean for independent journalism, for the future of Fairfax’s metropolitan and 160 community, regional and rural publications around Australia, and for the jobs and conditions of thousands of Fairfax employees.
“It is disappointing that Nine did not agree to submit the takeover to more rigorous scrutiny by seeking formal authorisation from the ACCC. This would have ensured greater transparency, and forced Nine to address many of the concerns expressed in these public submissions. Nevertheless, the volume of public submissions and the concerns expressed in them are real and cannot be ignored by the ACCC, which should act by rejecting the takeover in its current form.”
MEAA says that if the takeover is allowed to go ahead it should only be with strict enforceable undertakings, including a robust process to guarantee editorial independence, the maintenance of separate Nine and Fairfax newsrooms, and commitments to continue existing employment arrangements and all existing Fairfax publications for at least three years.
Download MEAA’s submission here.
You can buy one of these t-shirts or make a donation to the Fair Go Fairfax campaign here.
This takeover will be bad for Australian democracy and diversity of voices in what is already one of the most concentrated media markets in the world.
MEAA calls on the ACCC to block the takeover.
MEAA is seeking commitments from Nine and Fairfax that the Fairfax Charter of Editorial Independence is upheld under any merger.
Marcus Strom, president of MEAA Media, said: “Today’s takeover announcement is the inevitable result of the Coalition’s Government’s short-sighted and ill-conceived changes to media ownership laws that were always going to result in less media diversity. With ongoing inquiries into the independence and long-term viability of quality journalism under way, the ACCC must block this takeover.
“This takeover reduces media diversity. It threatens the editorial independence of great news rooms at Nine, the Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, Canberra Times, Illawarra Mercury, Newcastle Herald, Macquarie Media and more – right around the country. It harms the ability of an independent media to scrutinise and investigate the powerful, threatens the functioning of a healthy democracy, undermines the quality journalism that our communities rely on for information,” Strom said.
“Nine and Fairfax must explain how they intend to defend the integrity of independent quality journalism in any combined entity.”
MEAA demands that all existing employment conditions and entitlements are protected and retained for all workers at both companies; and that existing industrial agreements are respected.
Strom said: “Any further cuts to editorial journalism at Nine and Fairfax would bite into the muscle, bone and soul of the newsroom. The proposed savings of $50m in two years should come from trimmings to bloated executive salaries and from any back-office rationalisation.”
MEAA will be urgently convening meetings of its members at all Fairfax Media newsrooms to discuss the impact of today’s announcement.
Fairfax has a proud history of investing in independent journalism. It’s in everything the company does, even the slogan on its mastheads: “Independent. Always”. Fairfax journalists are recognised for their award-winning work, scrutinising and analysing the powerful while providing news, information and entertainment for their audience.
Between 2011 and 2016, Fairfax used regular redundancy rounds to cut almost 800 jobs from its editorial staff across the country. About 420 of those jobs came from the Metro daily newspaper divisions, more than 300 from its Regional newspapers, and more jobs have gone from the local Community newspapers. Those numbers don’t include attrition – where people who have resigned from the company have not been replaced.
In 2017 the company made a further $30 million in cuts to its metropolitan mastheads’ editorial budget, making 25% of its remaining journalists redundant.
The thing is, Fairfax newsrooms around Australia have already lost a wealth of skill and experience. For the editorial staff that remain, their workload has massively intensified, particularly as they are required to constantly write, produce and develop stories for a variety media platforms.
The equation is simple: Fewer journalists = Fewer stories. Fewer journalists means less scrutiny of government, less holding the powerful to account, less public interest journalism. And that means democracy itself is undermined.
Thursday November 8 2018: The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission will greenlight the takeover of Fairfax Media by Nine Entertainment Co. in a body-blow to media diversity, and the forerunner to future mega-deals that will reduce coverage of matters of public and national interest and do untold harm to media jobs. See MEAA’s statement here.
Wednesday September 12 2018: MEAA lodges its submission to the ACCC formal review. You can download MEAA’s submission here.
Friday September 7 2018 – Submissions to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s formal review of the Nine Entertainment Co takeover of Fairfax Media closed at 5pm today. To that time, 1147 submissions had been made from people using the online MEAA web site tool. The submissions made by the public are overwhelmingly opposed to the takeover. MEAA’s own submission will be made available shortly.
Wednesday August 23 2018 – Interested parties can make their own submissions to the ACCC review of the Nine takeover of Fairfax via a MEAA form.
Thursday August 16 2018 – Nine CEO Hugh Marks says Nine and Fairfax have lodged a detailed submission with the ACCC.
Friday August 10 2018 – MEAA says the takeover of Fairfax Media by Nine should undergo a far more detailed examination by the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission than that currently proposed. MEAA has written to the heads of Nine and Fairfax, and ACCC chairman Rod Sims, urging the companies to seek a formal authorisation of the merger from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) — a far more rigorous process than the current 12-week informal merger review. “A takeover of this nature, with its implications for media diversity, editorial independence and the cloud hanging over the Fairfax portfolio of regional publications and websites, requires a more robust and transparent process than an informal merger review. Nine and Fairfax should submit themselves to detailed questioning about this takeover. They should explain what their takeover will mean for all their media businesses and what it will mean for consumers, the audience who rely on the information and entertainment provided by those businesses. And they should be willing to explain what it will mean for the thousands of affected employees.”
Monday August 6 2018 – The future of Fairfax’s regional newspapers remains far from certain, especially in light of some of Nine CEO Hugh Marks’ comments. When asked recently about the future of the regionals, Marks stated that “those other businesses that may not fit that high-growth model may be better serviced by being part of some other environment.”
Friday August 3 2018 – The takeover of Fairfax Media by Nine further concentrates the Australian media, which, data shows, was already one of the more concentrated media industries in the world.
ACCC chair Rod Sims made additional comments about the upcoming takeover review. The finding’s of the Commission’s inquiry into digital platforms will help inform its long review, he said. “The merger parties [Nine and Fairfax], can see no competition issues here. We will see what unfolds when we begin our assessments. We have indicated a 12-week phase one timeline so our review will be a thorough one.”
MEAA welcomes this as from day we called on the ACCC to ‘hit pause’ until it had completed that inquiry.
“This will be a fascinating review given the considerable changes affecting traditional media in recent years,” Sims said. “Significantly in this matter, we will have the benefit of considerable insight into these changes from our digital platforms inquiry.
Wednesday August 1 2018 – In correspondence with MEAA, Nine has again failed to give satisfactory answers on editorial independence.
MEAA wrote to Nine CEO Hugh Marks on July 27 seeking clarification of the duration of Nine’s commitment to observe the terms and conditions of current Fairfax enterprise bargaining agreements (Marks said Nine would comply “for as long as they remain in effect”).
MEAA also said that it “may be appropriate to discuss matters in more detail”.
But Marks ruled out discussions with MEAA “as the deal is yet to complete. Our expectation is that this will happen around December 2018”.
MEAA’s view is: “As soon as the takeover was announced, MEAA initiated communications with Nine and sought discussions. It is disappointing that Mr Marks has now ruled out further discussions. MEAA remains open to meeting with Nine.”
Australian Competition & Consumer Commission chairman Rod Sims expects a 12-week “long review” of the takeover that will make a “very careful study” of the impacts it will have, including the effect on diversity of views”.
“Our lens is: what does the reduction in competition mean for diversity? What are competitive forces doing to diversity? We will look at quality, price and quantity,” Sims said.
Monday July 30 2018 – MEAA issued a statement saying that key questions remain unresolved about how editorial independence would be protected following the proposed takeover of Fairfax Media by Nine Entertainment Co.
MEAA said Nine chairman Peter Costello and his board must commit in writing to the full wording and intent of the Fairfax charter of editorial independence. Nine must also guarantee not to close or reduce the editorial footprint of Fairfax’s network of regional and suburban publications, which serve communities around Australia.
MEAA Media federal president Marcus Strom said Nine had a tradition of great journalism, but without a commitment in writing, Fairfax staff had every right to be concerned about whether the charter would be adopted if the takeover went ahead.
“The Fairfax charter of independence, established in 1991 when the company was facing an earlier takeover, explicitly prohibits media owners from dictating or interfering in the editorial decisions or journalism of its publications, even if they may reflect poorly on the proprietor or advertisers.
“It has allowed the journalists of Fairfax to pursue investigations into powerful influences, sometimes to the detriment of commercial interests, such as the series of stories into banking misbehavior which resulted in a royal commission, and articles about corporate wage theft.
“Until Peter Costello, who would be chair of the new merged entity, formally signs a binding document that commits Nine to adopting the charter of independence, our members will continue to be concerned and skeptical about how genuine Nine’s commitment to editorial independence really is.”
The future of the charter of independence is just one of several outstanding concerns about the proposed takeover.
“We will continue to push for solid undertakings and guarantees on job security, and we need clear and reliable answers on Nine’s commitment to maintaining current employment terms and conditions beyond the current enterprise agreements at Fairfax,” Mr Strom said.
“Even if we assume the best of intentions from Nine management, there will be immediate pressure to merge newsroom functions to cut costs. And Nine has made no guarantees about the future of the regional mastheads, portraying them in some interviews as unwanted assets.
“The ACCC should hit the pause button on this takeover until it has guarantees on editorial independence, the future of regional and rural mastheads and has time to consider the recommendations of its own digital media inquiry.”
Later in the day… ACCC chairman Rod Sims said the commission would scrutinise the takeover. He was reported as saying: “Once we get the submissions from the merger parties, we have given ourselves 12 weeks, which is about as long as we ever take, to go through this in very great detail… So all I can say is we are going to look at it extremely carefully. It’s a very, very important issue… Ours is a competition view, and so competition in advertising, competition as it affects consumers, but one way it affects consumers is the quality and diversity of their media. We will take that into account, because its part of what you are getting here, the quality of news and the breadth of news,” Sims said.
“Of course the merger parties say there is no competition issues, they always do. Every merger I have ever come across, the merger parties said ‘why do you bother us, there is just no competition issues’. Well, we are going to look very carefully at this. We are going to take it very seriously and there is not much more I can say until we get going.”
Friday July 27 2018 – In response to the reply received from Nine CEO Hugh Marks late on Thursday:
Thursday July 26 2018 – Nine Entertainment Co and Fairfax Media announce a proposed merger which would see Nine take over the Fairfax business and dissolve the Fairfax name.
MEAA issued a statement. MEAA said the takeover would be bad for Australian democracy and diversity of voices in what is already one of the most concentrated media markets in the world.
MEAA called on the ACCC to block the merger, saying that the ACCC can’t seriously consider the proposed merger until has finished its digital platforms inquiry, which Treasurer Scott Morrison called for in December 2017. If the merger were to go ahead, it would reduce media diversity and potentially undermine the editorial integrity of Fairfax’s mastheads. In addition, MEAA has called for Nine and Fairfax to guarantee that the Fairfax Media Charter of Editorial Independence would be retained, and that there would be no job losses under any merger.
MEAA wrote to Nine CEO Hugh Marks and Fairfax DEO Greg Hywood outlining several issues:
Later in the day… Nine Entertainment Co. CEO Hugh Marks responded:
Representatives of Fairfax journalists met with the company’s executives on Thursday May 11 to seek the company’s intentions. The company has remained firm on its 125 full-time equivalent reduction to staff numbers – that’s 1-in-4 journalists in metropolitan newsrooms.
The Fairfax journalists may have returned to work after their seven-day strike action but now they are busy trying to save the 125 journalist jobs (1-in-4) that the company intends to cut as a result of its proposed restructure. Between 2011-2016 Fairfax made at least 470 of its metropolitan daily journalists redundant – as recently as 2016, 120 journalist positions were lost at the metro daily papers as a result of a redundancy round. And those job losses in the newsroom don’t include the attrition that occurred when people resigned from Fairfax and were not replaced. For the journalists who remain, their workload massively intensifies – not least with journalists now having to work on several publishing platforms at once: print, online, social. But as the media industry undergoes massive transformation from digital disruption, journalists who have been made redundant cannot simply step into another journalism job where they can utilise their skills, experience and vast network of contacts and sources. Read this story on The Conversation about the New Beats research project: Life after redundancy: what happens next for journalists when they leave newsrooms.
MEAA welcomes the creation of a Senate select committee to inquire and report on the future of public interest journalism in the wake of Fairfax journalists striking over the loss of 125 jobs or 1-in-4 in metropolitan newsrooms.
The Fairfax journalists who voted to go on strike for seven days have now returned to work. They have courageously stood up for quality journalism by protesting job cuts that would see 1-in-4 jobs disappear from metropolitan newsrooms. They have stood up, not only for their colleagues, but for Fairfax publications and the audiences they serve. They took a brave stand because losing a further 125 journalists from newsrooms already savaged by years of job losses, cannot continue to produce the independent quality journalism the community needs and deserves. This fight is not yet over – the jobs are still on the line. We urge you to support quality journalism by subscribing to the news media of your choice. Great journalism doesn’t come free. If you value the news you use then please help support and sustain it. Because fewer journalists = fewer stories.
Striking Fairfax journalists will return to work en masse in Sydney, Melbourne Brisbane and Canberra from 9am tomorrow with their heads held high after a highly successful public campaign highlighting Fairfax Media’s harmful proposal to cut 1-in-4 editorial positions or 125 journalists from its metropolitan mastheads. Members will seek to recommence negotiations with the company on several outstanding issues. The incredible public response to our campaign in the last seven days shows the depth of concern in the community about the impact of these cuts, and the support for our efforts to fight for every job. Our campaign has also elevated the debate about the future of independent public interest journalism.
Monday was another incredible day of determined campaigning by striking Fairfax staff with plenty of activity from one end of the country to the other. There has been very strong support from among the arts community with videos being circulated far and wide, triggering considerable media attention as people realise what could soon be lost if entertainment and arts coverage is cut. Days of petition signing in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne have generated more than 10,000 signatures. Yesterday more than 60 journalists travelled from Sydney and Melbourne to link-up with colleagues in Canberra for a bbq on the lawns of Parliament House. The 2pm rally attracted plenty of media attention and you can see the brief Facebook livestream of the event here. This was followed up with a question on the ABC’s Q&A program about the future of journalism in the face of such massive job losses.
The Fair Go, Fairfax campaign is being supported by many prominent Australians concerned at what the impact of the Fairfax cuts (1-in-4 journalists in the metropolitan newsrooms) will mean – particularly to coverage of entertainment and the arts. They include: film critic Margaret Pomeranz, Sydney Festival director Wesley Enoch, author Peter Carey, Nine Network political editor Laurie Oakes, novelist Charlotte Wood, author and satarist John Safran, writer and actor Marieke Hardy, actor Richard Roxburgh, musician Yael Stone, the Australian Ballet, journalist Barrie Cassidy, comedian Nazeem Hussein, broadcaster Amanda Keller and many others.
The journalists’ open letter, addressed to the company’s shareholders and board members, sets out the journalists’ case for the company to act smarter by investing in the company’s quality journalism rather than undermining the company’s products by making yet more radical cost-savings cuts by forcing redundancies on editorial staff. It says the Fairfax board of directors’ strategy of “cutting the way to profitability” is flawed. The letter makes the point that Fairfax businesses flourish because of the company’s journalism and that, because of this, Fairfax should invest in its journalism because it makes sound business sense. The letter cites the plan to float the Domain business as an example.
Journalists have been out and about in Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra encouraging public support for the Fair Go, Fairfax campaign. They’ve been talking to their audience who are responding enthusiastically to the campaign by signing pledges and sending emails to Fairfax CEO Greg Hywood. The campaign has been engaging people on social media. Please join us!
From Vanuatu to France, Sweden to Tunisia, Turkey to Timor-Leste… Messages of support for Fairfax journalists have come flooding in from around the world. The global journalist association, the International Federation of Journalists has called on Fairfax to remedy the situation without losing jobs. The global International Trade Union Confederation, representing more than 180 million trade union members around the world expressed support for the Fair Go Fairfax campaign. Other messages of support were received from journalist associations in Britain and Ireland, Sweden, Spain, Ukraine and Belgium. You can read the statements here:
In stop-work meetings on the afternoon of May 3 2017 – UNESCO World Press Freedom Day – Fairfax editorial staff voted to take industrial action for seven days.
Staff are disgusted at the company’s decision to cut 25 per cent of its journalists as part of $30 million in cost savings. The decision means that 125 full-time equivalent positions will be lost.
The cuts are so deep that the Fairfax mastheads will have to dramatically reduce their reporting of significant areas of Australian life.
MEAA CEO Paul Murphy said: “In doing so, the company will be failing its audiences and leaving the journalists who remain behind having to work harder and harder to plug the gaps.”
In resolutions passed at the meetings, the editorial staff:
• rejected the cuts proposed by the company,
• will not accept any forced redundancies,
• want any voluntary rounds to be open for at least three weeks (as opposed to the company’s one week), and
• want senior management to take a 25 per cent pay cut.
Murphy said: “The editorial staff are really angry. They think the company has made a terrible decision that is not in the best interests of the company, its audience or its staff.”
At 10am on the morning of May 3 2017 – UNESCO World Press Freedom Day – Fairfax Media’s management revealed it would cut 125 full-time equivalent positions, or 25 per cent of its journalists, from its metropolitan newspapers.
The decision indicates that, yet again, Fairfax is opting for savage cuts that will only weaken its business further rather than investing in its products and working to achieve smarter outcomes.
MEAA CEO Paul Murphy says: “None of the other parts of the Fairfax business are worth anything without the journalism and yet it is the journalism that Fairfax always cuts.
“This will only undermine and damage its mastheads further, alienating its audience and leaving the editorial staff that remain having to work harder and harder to fill the gaps. This is a dumb decision,” Murphy said.
At meetings on April 7 2017, MEAA members in the Fairfax Sydney and Melbourne newsrooms have strongly condemned the $30 million cut to the editorial budget announced by Fairfax management. Journalists called on the company to demonstrate it is serious about genuine consultation with staff to achieve savings while not cutting jobs.
MEAA Media section director Katelin McInerney said members on the floor were invested in the future of the Fairfax mastheads and the independence of their journalism.
“The Fairfax brand of independent journalism is attracting a record number of subscribers and readers because these journalists deliver the kind of fearless and objective journalism audiences in a post-truth world are so reliant upon,” she said.
“MEAA members in these newsrooms are committed to the delivery of fearless and objective journalism. That is why they are calling on the new leadership team at Fairfax to work with journalists at the coal face to find better ways to deliver that news, and find smarter sustainable ways to achieve savings. They reject the old lazy targeting of the very people the company relies upon; the people whose talent, skills and story-telling innovation are the key to the future success of the Fairfax brand of journalism,” McInerney said.
The meetings also roundly rejected attempts by management to impose ideological direction and to interfere with masthead independence and their fair and fearless journalism.
“The Fairfax motto ‘Independent. Always’ and the dedication of Fairfax journalists to that motto underpins public trust in Fairfax – they believe any departure from that would be a betrayal of the trust audiences put in them,” McInerney said.
Look good and show your support for Fairfax journalists by proudly wearing one of these t-shirts! Go to our online shop to purchase a t-shirt for $27.50.
We have a limited run of t-shirts in all men’s and women’s sizes, with all funds going towards campaign materials for the Fair Go Fairfax campaign for quality journalism.
Don’t miss out on this collector’s item. Go to our online shop to purchase a t-shirt for $27.50 (including postage and GST).
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Do you want fake news or do you want Fairfax journos to break news? If it's the latter, it's time to speak up. www.fairgofairfax.org.au #FairGoFairfax
Posted by Save the SMH on Thursday, 4 May 2017
Don't risk losing the quality journalism you know and love. #FairGoFairfax
Posted by Save the SMH on Thursday, 4 May 2017
Here's respected Age football reporter Rohan Connolly doing the #FairGoFairfax campaign proud. Cutting 125 staff – taking it to 450 people in the last five years – is no way to manage a media company. Thanks to sports reporters from all outlets for your support. Means a lot.
Posted by Save The Age on Friday, 5 May 2017
Australian media personalities have shown their support for Fairfax staff fighting the most proportionately brutal staff cuts in the history of The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald. #FairGoFairfax #SaveTheSMH
Posted by Save the SMH on Monday, 8 May 2017
Coming to you live from Parliament House Canberra: journalists from the SMH and the Age are here to highlight the impact the cuts to their newsrooms will have on democracy and the public’s right to know what politicians and governments are doing. #fairgofairfax
Posted by MEAA on Sunday, 7 May 2017
Leading voices in Australia's arts world speak out against savage cuts to arts coverage in The SMH and The Age. Sign the petition at www.fairgofairfax.org.au #FairGoFairfax #savethesmh
Posted by Save the SMH on Saturday, 6 May 2017
There are so many reasons Melburnians love The Age. Here, 125 readers share what The Age means to them – and why they don't want to see 125 Fairfax staff walk out the door. It's goosebumps stuff. #FairGoFairfax #SaveTheAge
Posted by Save The Age on Monday, 8 May 2017