Thursday, June 21, 2012

Stephen Conroy says Fairfax Media and News Ltd restructures highlight "beginning of the end" for print newspapers. Says weekday hard copies dead in five years.

By Business editor Peter Ryan

The dramatic restructures at both Fairfax Media and News Limited in recent days have put traditional printed newspapers on not much more than life support.

But this morning, the Communications Minister Senator Stephen Conroy said the accelerating events marked the beginning of the end for hard copy editions.

"The print newspaper is under enormous pressure and what you're seeing here is possibily the beginning of the end for the print newspaper," Senator Conroy said.

Speaking on Channel Nine, Senator Conroy described the rapid demise highlighted by Fairfax Media and News Limited restructures as "a very sad day".

Listen to my analysis and Senator Conroy's comments broadcast on this morning's edition of AM.

Read the ABC's rolling blog on the restructures at Fairfax and News Limited.

He called newspapers "venerable" institutions that "played a vital role in democracy."

But Senator Conroy signalled he was on a death watch with this prediction for traditional weekday editions.

"I wouldn't be putting money betting that there'll be print newspapers during the week in five years time. There's a very tough time in the print media sector at the moment."

Senator Conroy was speaking after New Limited revealed its digital future yesterday which includes plans to shrink 19 divisions to just five without putting a number on job cuts.

The move follows Fairfax Media, which announced on Monday that 1900 positions would be axed, the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age would go tabloid and printing presses in Sydney and Melbourne would be closed.

Senator Conroy has also expressed his concern at Gina Rinehart's bid for three Fairfax board seats and the opportunity to influence the editorial direction of key mastheads.

"I think the readership of Fairfax, the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, would be in crisis if any owner was using a paper to promote their own overall commercial interests. This would be a disaster," Senator Conroy said.

"I would urge Ms Rinehart to sign the the charter of independence, accept that the Fairfax newspapers are not there to be a cheer squad for your own commercial interests."

In another development, the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission, said it would be reviewing News Limited's $1.97 billion proposed to buy James Packer's 25 percent stake in the pay television company Foxtel.

The deal, if approved, would give News Limited a 50 percent share of Foxtel with the other hald controlled by Telstra.
Twitter: @ peter_f_ryan

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