Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Vol 35 no. 4. 22 March 1972
Wellington's two daily papers can expect and indeed deserve widespread public contempt for their proposed merger. Neither paper reflects much credit on the capital at present anyway. The Dominion is blatantly a commuter's paper. Its tabloid size means that news must be presented in Reader's Digest style. The Evening Post may indeed print news but does so without discrimination, so that it is difficult to decide what is important. With the possible exception of Dunedin, Wellington has the most inadequate newspaper coverage of any major New Zealand city.
Two mediocre papers are not likely to be improved by a monopoly situation. This manipulation of shareholdings is not intended to improve service to the public.
Both Blundeli Bros, and the Wellington Publishing Company-have been suffering lower profits, and presumably see the monopoly situation as a way of escape.
Directors of each company may well be sincere in their desire to preserve editorial freedoms. The fact remains that by merging managements, they are providing the potential for abuse.
In an effort to justify its intended merger the Evening Post has been throwing up smokescreens. It is nonsense to claim that what might have been termed monopoly back in 1870 is not monopoly today, because of competition from the electronic media Newspapers are still the most effective means of recording the life of the community. Layout can help show the relative importance of events, and only the press has the space and divided audience to be able to carry serious background investigations. The impact of print is less fleeting than that of radio and television.
For the privately owned press to turn and criticize the near monopoly of the N.Z.B.C. is ludicrous.
No-one imagines the shareholders or directors are in the business to perform a public service. They would probably be most happy if their papers carried only profit making advertising.
The industry's recent moves towards monopoly control reveal the hypocrisy of its defence of private enterprise. Indeed as the Evening Post bemoaned, in a different context, times have changed. And the changed times require more responsible control than private profit for what is an important public service.
Maybe instead of sitting back and wailing when economic pressures force newspapers to merge, the Labour Party should propose a government - sponsored newspaper corporation similar to the N.Z.B.C..
This latest in a series of takeovers mergers is particularly obnoxious because it threatens the news outlets of a whole region. The public could at least feel confidence in a public corporation that had service as its aim.
One can only surmise about the consequenses of newspaper monopoly. The two papers will be in a strong position to increase their advertising rates. For instance, when the Dominions property guide started about a year ago it offered reduced rates for the real estate agents. What will happen when present contracts expire?
Was it just coincidence that both papers raised their price from 3d to 4c to 5c to 6c at the same times. When can we expect the next rise.?
Between them, the Evening Post and Dominion have the major printing presses in Wellington. There would be little hope for the smaller companies in the event of a price war.
Journalists of both present companies are justifiably concerned about their future roles. There will be little motivation for reporters to compete. Worse, there is the monopoly control of employment. Both papers may offer guarantees of tenure at present but future economic reasons may mean reductions of staff. The case of the Waikato Times (which the Wellington Publishing Co. bought last year) provides a disturbing indication. Some of its top journalists have been brought to Wellington with a consequent weakening in Hamilton, and less diversity of news comment.
The proposed merging of the Evening Post and Dominion is plainly not in the public interest, and calls for a more thorough appraisal than the directors and the government seem prepared to give.
A final word should come from two Directors of the Wellington Publishing Company. J.H. Dunn and A.L. Mason, directors of Truth, who have objected strongly to the proposed merger:
"The advocates of the merger claim that it is necessary for the protection and the resuscitation of "The Dominion". We believe that if the preoccupations of top management are diverted for a year or two from the succession of take-overs which have consumed their energies in the past few years and are directed to the achievement of internal efficiency and the re-organisation of management in "The Dominion", it can quickly, and at much less cost than is involved in this proposal, be restored to a satisfactory degree of profitability."