The 168-year-old Bendigo Advertiser is not for sale, despite advertisements to the contrary being run in recent editions.
- Antony Catalano’s shares in Prime are selling to Seven West Media, cancelling out the need to sell of the Bendigo Advertiser
- Australian Community Media still plans on fighting the 1992 Broadcasting Services Act to allow for more regional media ownership
- One central Victorian editor says print media is having a resurgence
In April 2021, the central Victorian newspaper and Wagga Wagga’s Daily Advertiser were put up for sale by Australian Community Media (ACM) after executive officer Antony Catalano and his business partner Alex Waislitz increased their shares in the Prime Media Group to more than 20 per cent.
The Broadcasting Services Act 1992 does not allow one entity to own two voices in the market and under Mr Catalano’s purchase ACM would have had the newspaper and television outlets in Bendigo and Wagga Wagga.
But on November 1, Seven West Media announced it would buy Prime for $132 million, effectively freeing Mr Catalano from having to sell two daily newspapers.
The new deal will be finalised in mid-December.
‘No intention of selling’
ACM managing director Tony Kendall said ads for the sales of the Bendigo and Wagga Wagga outlets would run until mid-December, in line with Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) standards.
“We’ve had an undertaking from ACMA that once the Prime sale goes through to Seven, then we will have to apply to have the enforceable undertaking lifted — that shouldn’t be a problem,” he said.
“Until such time though, we have to be seen to be following the rules of the undertaking — ergo, the ad.
“We’d spoken to the staff last week — whilst the ads would be appearing, all things being equal, we have no intention of selling the Bendigo or Wagga papers.”
Mr Kendall said about four parties had expressed interest in buying the Bendigo Advertiser since it was put on the market.
Laws ‘horribly outdated’
Mr Kendall said ACM planned on continuing its fight against the Broadcasting Services Act even if the sale of Prime to Seven West Media went ahead.
“Everyone that we’ve spoken to in both sides of government, and within the bureaucracy of the government, agree that the laws are horribly outdated — they were written pre-smartphone and almost on the border of the internet,” he said.
“The fact that the laws have been changed in metro areas which allow Channel Nine to have radio, tv and newspapers, but in a regional market, we can’t do the same, we think it’s highly unusual and unfair.”
The law changes in metropolitan jurisdictions took about 15 years to be enacted, Mr Kendall said.
Former Bendigo Advertiser senior journalist, Bendigo Weekly editor and Walkley Award winner Anthony Radford said it would be an uncertain time for the outlet until the deal was finalised.
“Anyone who’s seen Succession knows it’s not over until it’s over in this media world,” he said.
‘Absolute need’ for local news
Chris Earl founded the Loddon Herald in January 2021 after the region had been without a local news outlet for nearly 12 months.
As a former Bendigo Advertiser journalist, he knows all too well the need for communities to have their stories told.
“They’d lost their voice, they’d lost their platform and there was an absolute need for it,” Mr Earl said.
He said the need for papers like the Bendigo Advertiser was growing.
“There’s certainly been a lot of reorganisation of media across Australia — much of it has been implemented or imposed under the guise of COVID-19 or other changes,” Mr Earl said.
“At the end of the day, over the last 20 months across Australia, we’ve seen an absolute commitment of so many people to ensure the continuation of rural and regional newspapers and giving most communities a voice.
“Just as several decades ago, the doomsayers were predicting the end of the local butcher and baker.
“They were proven wrong on that and they could be proven wrong on the negative predictions on the future of regional newspapers.”