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Sunday Times bid clears competition hurdle

AAP logoAAP 14/09/2016 Lilly Vitorovich

Australia's competition gatekeeper Rod Sims has cleared Seven West Media's purchase of News Corp's Sunday Times, saying falling print readership and ad revenue mean the takeover won't substantially reduce competition.

ACCC chairman Mr Sims on Thursday gave the green light to Kerry Stokes's Seven West Media to tighten its grip on the Western Australian market with the purchase of The Sunday Times newspaper and the perthnow.com.au news site from Rupert Murdoch's News Corp following an extensive review.

Mr Sims said the takeover was not likely to have a significant impact on consumers or advertisers.

While some advertisers had raised concerns about the loss of competition for advertising opportunities, Mr Sims said most acknowledged that print advertising was losing its importance.

"Advertising expenditure in print newspapers in Perth is in steep decline," he said.

Most advertisers the ACCC spoke to are spending less on print newspapers than a few years ago, and are finding alternative ways of reaching target audiences, Mr Sims said.

Advertisers have other options they could switch to if the Western Australian newspaper tried to increase rates.

"On the consumer side, the large decline in print newspaper readership formed a major part of our analysis," Mr Sims said.

"Many consumers in Western Australia are now getting their news online or from other sources".

The ACCC considered other online news outlets, including Fairfax's WAtoday.com.au and ABC News' dedicated Western Australian website, when making its decision on whether it would impact consumers.

The regulatory go-ahead comes as the federal parliament prepares to review a media reform package including abolishing the reach rule, which prevents mergers between metropolitan and regional free-to-air broadcasters, and the two-out-of-three cross-media ownership law.

Seven West chief executive Tim Worner said the WA deal will place the group in a "stronger position" to compete with the rising presence of global content and other platforms such as Twitter and Facebook.

"For us, this is a once in a company lifetime opportunity and that is the way we are going to approach it," Mr Worner said.

The two companies are also joint venture partners in the Community Newspaper Group in Western Australia.

The acquisition will allow Seven West, owner of The West Australian newspaper, to expand its publishing and printing from six to seven days a week and cut costs.

Seven West wasn't immediately available to comment on the financial terms of the deal, reported to be worth up to $15 million.

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