Regional publisher Australian Community Media would have to sell its Bendigo and Wagga mastheads under “antiquated” laws, if it wants to take control of broadcaster Prime Media. Or perhaps close them.
Despite an update of media ownership laws in 2017 – which might have allowed News Corp to acquire the Ten Network, subsequently sold to CBS – it’s the 1992 Broadcasting Services Act which appears to stand in the way of a full acquisition of Prime by Antony Catalano and Alex Waislitz, now its largest shareholders.
Since which time, a lot has happened in the business of printed newspapers. Like News, ACM suspended and closed many of its print titles during 2020, but the 1992 ruling that there must be “at least four independently controlled media entities” within one regional area, still stands. In metro areas, five are required.
But the legislation dates back to the days when printed newspapers were highly profitable, and digital alternatives and social media unavailable.
The so-called ‘voices test’ refers only to daily newspapers, Catalano commenting that digital enterprises – including those from Facebook and Google – which can be read by regional readers didn’t count.
Catalano and Waislitz bought the Bendigo Advertiser in Victoria, and the Daily Advertiser in Wagga Wagga, NSW – part of the former Fairfax Media regional group – from TV company Nine Entertainment, turning the business into ACM.
Whether they could find a buyer for the print mastheads remains in doubt.
Pictured: Part of Wagga Wagga’s global fame is attributed to its railway station on the Sydney-Melbourne line