The Commerce Commission's refusal to permit a merger of New Zealand's two newspaper-based media companies is a fateful one for the supply of news and information in this country.

The commission's decision is wrong, we believe, because it appears to believe the status quo is an option. It is not.

This newspaper will survive in print as well as digital form so long as readers value it, but that cannot be said for all newspapers in New Zealand.

The merger proposed between our proprietor, NZME, and Fairfax, owner of other metropolitan dailies, was a considered response to a rapidly changing commercial environment.


Everywhere in the world, companies that have invested in gathering and publishing news and information of public interest have been losing advertising revenue to the internet, with its facility for targeting audiences more precisely and offering auctions online.

If this revenue was going instead to support online journalism it would be less of a worry, though online advertising has yet to produce the earnings required to maintain the news gathering resources that newspaper advertising so long sustained.

The greater problem today is that too much of the advertising is going to the likes of Google and Facebook that do not do any news gathering of their own.

In fact they cannibalise the costly news gathering, features and investigative work of newspapers, broadcasters and websites that create their own content.

The cannibals take the content plus the advertising and pay no tax to the country. They are forcing publishers that still invest in journalism to trim their costs and become ever more agile to remain profitable.

The merger was proposed for that purpose. Blocking it does not remove the problem or make it any less necessary for the industry to cut costs and find news to survive.

The commission has blocked it because it sees a threat to democracy if one company was to provide nearly 90 per cent of daily newspaper circulation in New Zealand along with the two major online news sites and NZME's radio network.

The commission's fundamental mistake is to equate diversity of ownership with diversity of views.

Newspaper proprietors are in the business for profit, they are not in the business to push their own views.

Hard as it may be for many outside the industry to believe, editorial independence is real.

The range of opinion within the pages of this newspaper has not been influenced by changes of ownership and the views we express editorially can, and do, often differ from those expressed by others owned by NZME.

The range of views available to a democracy is much more likely to depend on the range of news media available to it, then whether most of those media are owned by two companies or one.

Sadly, fewer newspapers might now survive than a merger might have sustained.

But it is not views that a democracy stands to lose, views are cheap and proliferate online. It is news a democracy cannot afford to lose.

Reliable news - factual information published under the name of news services that have a reputation to protect.

Without them, democracy will be left with rumour, speculation and political and commercial promotions. That is our fate if the news business fails.