Government announces media deregulation, paving way for acquisitions

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Legislation to change media ownership laws in Australia will be put before parliament, the government said on Tuesday, opening the door for a potential raft of mergers and acquisitions from major media companies such as News Corp.

The bill will be introduced in parliament on Wednesday and is expected to be passed in the next several months with support of independent senators.

The so-called ‘two out of three’ rule which prevents any company from owning a free-to-air TV network, newspaper and radio station at the same time will be scrapped.

Restrictions on urban TV networks purchasing rural stations will also be removed.

“The media ownership regulations were written before paid television, before the Internet and have been out of date for years … we are bringing media ownership regulation laws into the 21st century” Turnbull told parliament.

The reforms could provide a lifeline to Australia’s struggling newspaper industry, which is dominated by News Corp’s Australian unit and rival Fairfax Media Ltd, both of whom are expected to consider merging their newspaper and radio stations with a major TV network.

News Corp and Fairfax have both seen sharp drops in newspaper circulation numbers in recent years and widespread job losses, as readers increasingly move online for news, disrupting advertising revenue and traditional business models.

TV companies Nine Entertainment Corp, Ten Network Holdings and Seven West Media are all tipped to merge with their rural counterparts.

Shares in Nine and Ten have risen, 6.3 percent and 4.7 percent respectively since newspapers reported details of the proposed changes at the start of last week, while shares in Seven have jumped by 34.4 percent.

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