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Fairfax NZ boss quits ahead of merger call

NZN 8/03/2017 Sophie Boot

Fairfax New Zealand managing director Simon Tong has resigned just days before a Commerce Commission ruling on the proposed merger with NZME.

Tong, who joined Fairfax in September 2013, will leave next Friday and begin as ASB Bank's executive general manager technology, innovation and payments on March 27, making him part of ASB's executive leadership team.

Andrew Boyle will be acting managing director and Fairfax Media says it's looking for a permanent replacement.

But a spokesman wouldn't speculate on what kind of skillset the publisher would be seeking for Tong's successor.

His exit comes as the Commerce Commission's decision on the media merger looms large on Wednesday.

The regulator released a draft determination in November rejecting the merger, saying it would "result in an unprecedented level of media concentration for a well-established liberal democracy" with the potential loss of multiple media voices a major part of the decision.

It was originally due last August, but was delayed due to the complexity of the deal.

ASB chief executive Barbara Chapman said Tong brings "a unique combination of skills, industry experience and knowledge to the role" and he has a "proven track record of managing large and dynamic organisations." Prior to Fairfax, Tong was chief executive of Paymark for seven years.

Tong said he was "thrilled to be joining the ASB team during such an exciting period of change for the financial services industry" and his background "provides me with a unique opportunity to contribute to the success of ASB."

The Commerce Commission held a public conference into the merger in December.

In NZME and Fairfax's public response to questions raised during the conference, the companies argued reducing duplication in news coverage would be "efficiency enhancing and will not materially detract from the volume or quality of news coverage", and that TVNZ, Newshub and Radio NZ are and will remain a serious competitive constraint if the merger is allowed.

In a letter from the companies' lawyers to the Commerce Commission, the publishers said understanding the competitive media market required the recognition "that mobile and video is where the market for news and entertainment is growing rapidly" and free-to-air operators have considerable advantages in producing this.

The regulator did so in its recent rejection of the Sky Network Television/Vodafone New Zealand merger, the letter says.

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