Media merger appeal in court today

New Zealand's two largest news publishers will today take their merger appeal to the High Court, following the Commerce Commission's rejection in May.

NZX-listed NZME and Stuff, the recently renamed New Zealand arm of ASX-listed Fairfax Media, applied to merge in 2015, arguing the downside of more concentrated local media ownership would be offset by the merged entity's greater ability to survive the global competition for local advertising dollars caused by the rise of online search and social media giants such as Google and Facebook.

In a decision following a series of public hearings, the commission concluded the merger would have too detrimental an impact on media 'plurality' - the number of competing sources of reporting and opinion that it argued was essential to the media's role as an important element of a well-functioning democracy. Fairfax and NZME filed their appeal later that month, claiming the regulator was wrong in fact and in law in rejecting the merger.

The appeal, which has been set down for a 10-day hearing in the Wellington High Court from today, will see David Goddard QC representing the media companies, while James Farmer QC will appear for the commission.

Goddard successfully argued against opposition to the Commerce Commission's authorisation of a national wool scouring monopoly. That decision became part of the backbone of the commission's decision to decline the NZME/Fairfax proposal.

The hearing is before Justice Robert Dobson with lay member Professor Martin Richardson helping the court properly understands expert evidence on competition issues.

(BusinessDesk)