SYDNEY (AFP) - Shareholders in Australia's venerable Fairfax newspaper group on Monday (Nov 19) overwhelmingly approved the takeover of the company by broadcaster Nine Entertainment, creating a new media giant.
The vote sealed the creation of Australia's first media company with activities across free-to-air television, print, video streaming and digital platforms, and promises to unleash further concentration in a sector already dominated by a handful of giant players.
Fairfax Media said investors voted 81.49 per cent of shares in favour of the takeover, with just 18.5 per cent cast against.
The combined group will be called Nine and will begin operations on Dec 10, pending final federal court approval, expected on Nov 27.
Fairfax Media, which has been an Australian news staple for more than 170 years, will cease to exist.
The A$4 billion (S$4 billion) Nine-Fairfax merger was the first deal under a controversial media ownership law passed last year which removed restrictions that had prevented companies from owning newspapers, radio and free-to-air television stations in the same city.
Major players in the market had long pressed for the change, arguing the rules were outdated and did not account for digital media platforms and new actors like Google and Facebook, which have siphoned off the lion's share of advertising revenue in the media sector.
The Rupert Murdoch-owned News Corp, the country's largest newspaper group, has already begun developing cross-platform deals with free-to-air television companies, and many analysts believe it could, in turn, merge with Seven West, which operates the country's most popular television network.
Critics of the new media law complain that it will further undermine diversity in the Australian news sector.
Like news organisations worldwide, Fairfax has been shedding jobs for years and the takeover by Nine has raised fears of further editorial cutbacks.
Nine has already signalled it will seek to sell off the Fairfax stable of rural and regional newspapers.
But the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) ruled earlier this month that the Nine-Fairfax merger "was not likely to substantially lessen competition in any market".
The ACCC acknowledged the deal would leave only four big media companies "intensely focusing on Australian news", but it said the advent of the Internet had brought in many online news players to "provide some degree of competitive restraint".