New Zealand ‘Stuff’ future unclear after dueling statements

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — The future of one of New Zealand’s largest media organizations remained unclear Monday following a series of dueling stock market announcements.

The confusion centered on Stuff, which prints many of the nation’s newspapers and runs a popular news website. Stuff is owned by Australia’s Nine Entertainment. Like other media organizations, Stuff had financial difficulties before the coronavirus epidemic struck and has since seen advertising revenues plunge.

The back-and-forth began Monday when rival media company NZME filed an announcement with the New Zealand stock market saying it wanted to buy Stuff for one dollar. It asked the government to urgently change the law so the sale could go ahead.

Regulators had previously rejected plans by the two companies to merge, on the basis that a combined company would have too much of a monopoly on the country’s newspapers and online news.

But soon after NZME’s filing, Nine countered with an announcement filed with the Australian stock market saying that while the two companies had been negotiating, Nine had told NZME that it had “terminated further engagement.” In other words, any deal was off.

NZME then filed a second stock market statement, saying the two companies remained in a “binding exclusive negotiation period” which had not been validly terminated.

Just where that leaves Stuff remains unclear for now, although further announcements are expected in the coming days. Broadcasting Minister Kris Faafoi said he had no comment yet on NZME’s proposal.

NZME stock was up 14% after the announcements.

Since the outbreak, NZME has announced plans to cut 200 jobs while Stuff has temporarily cut its employee’s pay. Last month, German company Bauer Media closed its New Zealand operation and stopped publishing many of the country’s magazines.

New Zealand has been largely successful in its goal of eliminating the virus, and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Monday announced a plan to reopen most businesses and schools over the next 10 days.

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