SYDNEY: Two of Australia’s biggest media properties, broadcaster Nine and news publisher Fairfax Media, have announced a shock A$4bn merger – a development set to change the face of the country’s media landscape, as it grapples with new media-ownership regulation which made the deal possible.

Staff have been left reeling after news was revealed that Fairfax Media – home to flagship newspapers the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age – will lose its name in a A$4bn deal with broadcaster Nine. The new company will be called Nine Entertainment Co (NEC).

The merger is the first big move since the Australian government ushered in controversial new cross-media ownership reforms in 2017.

Previously, a merger of this kind would have been illegal – one company was barred from owning radio, TV and newspaper publishing assets in the same market. Under the new law, that barrier is gone.

According to the terms of the deal, broadcaster Nine will own 100% of online streaming service Stan and Fairfax’s 60% share of property portal Domain, alongside some radio assets.

“Such a merger of two major media groups will of course result in some duplication of functions and you will read about synergies that will be pursued by the business as part of this transaction,” said Nine CEO Hugh Marks, in comments reported by the Sydney Morning Herald (which is owned by Fairfax Media).

Marks confirmed in comments published by Guardian Australia that interest in Stan and Domain assets part-owned by Fairfax – rather than journalism-based assets – were the primary drivers of the merger.

An ASX statement noted that the merger is expected to deliver $50m in cost savings over two years. Senior executives say that Fairfax’s masthead names will remain unchanged, but journalists employed by the company have mixed feelings.

“Of course when you hear the word synergy you wonder about merged newsrooms and you wonder about, to be frank, whether there’ll be further job losses and what that means,” said Fairfax investigative reporter Nick McKenzie, in comments to ABC Radio, adding that he saw an upside in the potential for accessing new audiences.

“60 Minutes reaches a massive audience, it actually reaches an audience that the Age and the Sydney Morning Herald traditionally doesn’t connect with… If our journalism can reach that audience and tell a new group of people… news that they need to know about, that’s a good thing as well,” he said.

“We’ll be able to hold the politicians to greater account and reach a bigger audience while we do so.”

The deal is likely to be completed by the end of 2018.

Sourced from the Guardian, Sydney Morning Herald, ABC, MSN; additional content by WARC staff