06 October 2016


The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has released a 'Statement of Issues' on moves toward a newspaper monoculture in Queensland, i.e. the proposed acquisition by News Corporation of APN's Australian Regional Media (ARM) operations.

The ACCC states
 The proposed acquisition would combine the two main newspaper publishers in Queensland, adding ARM’s community and regional publications in Queensland and northern New South Wales to News’ extensive portfolio of community, regional, state, and national publications. The ACCC is investigating the effect that this would have on competition for both readers and advertisers. 
“One area of focus is the loss of competition between ARM’s paid regional newspapers and News’ The Courier Mail. If the proposed acquisition proceeds, News will own both The Courier Mail and the local paid newspaper in nearly every city or town in Queensland. This may result in a reduction of quality and diversity of content available to readers. Reinforcing that concern is that both News and ARM have a strong presence in online news through their websites associated with the Queensland newspapers,” ACCC Chairman Rod Sims said. 
“The ACCC is seeking to understand whether the competitive tension between News and ARM is an important factor in maintaining quality and range of content, or whether the threat of readers shifting to alternatives, particularly alternative online news sites, will competitively constrain News after the acquisition.”
It notes that ARM publishes paid daily regional papers in Mackay, Rockhampton, Gladstone, Bundaberg, Hervey Bay, Gympie, Sunshine Coast, Toowoomba, Ipswich and Warwick.  ARM and News both also publish overlapping community papers (mostly free papers with a strong local focus) in Caboolture/Bribie Island, south west Brisbane, Brisbane northern bayside, Logan, and Tweed Heads/southern Gold Coast.
The ACCC is seeking to assess the effect on readers and local advertisers in those areas, and to assess whether the reduction in competition is significant. “The ACCC will be assessing the importance of diversity of local content in these competing community publications. The ACCC is also seeking to understand whether advertising opportunities on other media platforms, such as local radio, pamphlets, and online, will constrain prices for advertising in the ARM and News community newspapers,” Mr Sims said. 
The ACCC helpfully provides an itemisation of ARM’s print publications
 North Queensland (Mackay region) 
Daily Mercury, The Midweek, Whitsunday Times, and Whitsunday Coast Guardian. 
Central Queensland 
The Morning Bulletin, The Observer, Capricorn Coast Mirror, Central Telegraph, and Central Queensland News, 
Wide Bay Burnett 
NewsMail, Fraser Coast Chronicle, The Gympie Times, Guardian, Isis Town and Country, Central and North Burnett Times, Hervey Bay Observer, The Maryborough Herald, Cooloola Advertiser and Hervey Bay Independent
South-East Queensland 
Sunshine Coast Daily, Sunshine Coast Sunday, Noosa News, Coolum and North Shore News, Maroochy Weekly, Kawana Weekly, Caloundra Weekly, Nambour Weekly and Buderim Chronicle
South-East Queensland 
Caboolture News, Bribie Weekly, The Logan Reporter, The Satellite, Bayside Northern Suburbs Star, The Queensland Times and The Ipswich Advertiser
South-West Queensland 
Warwick Daily News, The Chronicle, Stanthorpe Border Post, Dalby Herald, Gatton, Lockyer and Brisbane Valley Star, Laidley Plainland Leader, South Burnett Times, Southern Downs Weekly, Balonne Beacon, The Western Star, Western Times, Chinchilla News and Murilla Advertiser
Northern NSW (Gold Coast, Tweed and northern NSW) 
Tweed Daily News, Tweed Daily News – Community Edition, The Northern Star, The Daily Examiner, The Woolgoolga Advertiser, Byron Shire News, Ballina Shire Advocate, Lismore Echo, The Richmond River Express Examiner, Coastal Views, and The Coffs Coast Advocate
Specialist publications 
Surat Basin News, Rural Weekly (five editions, including a Northern Territory edition), Big Rigs, CQ Industry, Style Magazine, Seniors Newspaper (eight different editions distributed in South-East Queensland and NSW), and APN Educational Media publications (business-to-business publisher of Education Review, Nursing Review, Aged Care Insite and Campus Review).
Last month the ACCC indicated that it will not oppose the proposed acquisition of The Sunday Times and perthnow.com.au from News Corporation by Seven West Media (SWM), given its view that acquisition on balance is unlikely to "substantially lessen competition for either consumers or advertisers".

It noted in its August 2016 Statement of Issues that SWM has various print publications and online sites throughout Western Australia. SWM’s national media assets include the Seven Network, Pacific Magazines, and interests in Yahoo!7 and Sky News Australia. In Western Australia, it has The West Australian, The Weekend West, thewest.com.au and other media assets, including radio and community and regional newspapers. News is the publisher of various print media and online sites throughout Australia, including The Australian newspaper and news.com.au. In Western Australia, News also publishes The Sunday Times and perthnow.com.au.

The ACCC stated
 “On the consumer side, the large decline in print newspaper readership formed a major part of our analysis. Many consumers in Western Australia are now getting their news online or from other sources,” Mr Sims said. 
“With regards to SWM's ownership of thewest.com.au and the proposed acquisition of perthnow.com.au, we gave consideration to other online news alternatives for West Australians, including Fairfax’s WAtoday.com.au and ABC News’ dedicated Western Australian website.” 
Although some advertisers raised concerns about the loss of competition for advertising opportunities, most acknowledged that print advertising was of declining importance and identified other advertising options they could switch to if WAN attempted to increase rates. “ 
Advertising expenditure in print newspapers in Perth is in steep decline. Most of the advertisers we spoke to after publishing the Statement of Issues are spending less on print newspapers than a few years ago and are finding alternative ways of reaching target audiences, including via digital media,” Mr Sims said.