Plans to close Aussie newswire AAP halted as suitors pop up

SYDNEY • Plans to close Australia's only national newswire are on hold after its management was blindsided by offers to buy the company.

Australian Associated Press (AAP) last month said it was closing, but in an e-mail yesterday, the management told staff those plans had been paused while they considered offers from several suitors.

"This development was not expected by management, the AAP board or the AAP shareholders," chief executive Bruce Davidson said in the e-mail. Company officials did not identify the suitors.

Last month, about 180 employees were told the firm would be wound up after its main shareholders, Mr Rupert Murdoch's News Corp and broadcasting and newspaper group Nine Entertainment, determined the wire was "no longer viable".

The surprise decision to close stunned the media in Australia and elsewhere, fuelling concerns about the loss of independent news coverage in a country with one of the most concentrated media industries of any democracy.

Despite several employees already being told they would be out of a job by late this month, steps to close the firm by June are now on hold, and redundancies would be postponed for at least two weeks.

"I understand this development creates more uncertainty for all of you, and I apologise for adding yet another level of complexity," Mr Davidson said. "We all should be cautious: Nothing may come of these discussions and the interested parties may not be qualified to run a news organisation."

Founded in 1935 by media baron Keith Murdoch, Mr Rupert Murdoch's father, AAP became a central source of Australian news for major outlets in the country and overseas.

However, speculation about its future has persisted in recent years, after major staff cutbacks and the closure of its New Zealand arm in 2018.

The wire's owners - Nine, News Corp Australia, The West Australian and Australian Community Media - are expected to take two to three weeks to weigh the offers to buy the AAP news operation and related businesses.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 20, 2020, with the headline 'Plans to close Aussie newswire AAP halted as suitors pop up'. Subscribe