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Herald deal: politicians fear for media diversity

Nov 6th, 2008 | By | Category: Latest News, News

By Sandra Dickson & Sarah Coddington

THE prospect of the national newspaper market being dominated by just one major owner raised concerns for most politicians contacted by NewsWire.

“The situation is bad enough now with two newspaper groups, let alone one,” says Progressive MP Jim Anderton (right).

He has grave reservations about the prospects of FairfaxNZ buying rival chain APN’s newspaper assets.

Fairfax media owns the Dominion Post, as well as regional and community newspapers all over the country and is tipped as a leading contender to buy APN (NZ), which owns the country’s largest newspaper, the NZ Herald, the Listener, and regional newspapers.

Brendon Burns (pictured, right) – ex-parliamentary journalist and editor of the Marlborough Express for seven years – agrees: “I think it is important for democracy we have more then one newspaper chain supplying us of news.”

Mr Burns, Labour candidate for Christchurch Central, says Fairfax ownership of the New Zealand Herald would be a sad day for democracy in New Zealand. 

“I do not think that would be healthy for anyone, whether you are a politician or a business person or a newspaper reader.”

The Green Party also favours diversity of ownership, which Sue Bradford (right) says is already a problem in New Zealand.

It would be a “real tragedy if Fairfax buys it”, says Ms Bradford. “It’s such a massive monopoly.”

Press secretaries for National’s John Key and Bill English indicated both men were too busy with the election to respond to what they believed, at this point, was market speculation.

Helen Clark’s office scolded NewsWire for even bringing the topic up, saying our reporters should have raised it earlier in the week when they covered Miss Clark’s visit to the Hutt.

EPMU (journalists’) union lawyer Tony Wilton says that over the years, media ownership has become more concentrated.

“New Zealand has one of the most open and unregulated situations regarding news media control in the western world,” he says.  “So news has become less diverse and, I dare say, of lower quality.”

Fairfax buying the NZ Herald would be a step backward, says Mr Wilton, of the Engineering and Print Manufacturing Union.

While Fairfax has been named by media commentators as the most likely buyer of Irishman Tony O’Reilly’s 40% share of APN, nothing has been confirmed and other possible contenders, such as SkyTV, TV3 and Rupert Murdoch’s News Ltd have also been mentioned.

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