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Australia's Nine media sells 170 newspapers for $81 million

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — A major Australian media company announced on Tuesday it has agreed to sell 170 regional and rural newspapers for 115 million Australian dollars ($81 million). Nine Entertainment said it signed an agreement to sell the newspapers to shareholder Antony Catalano and Thorney Investment Group. The sale is to be completed by June 30.

Catalano last year took court action in a failed attempt to block the merger of Nine, a television network, with Fairfax Media, Australia's largest newspaper publisher after News Corp. He is a former chief executive of the online real estate listings portal Domain Group which was majority-owned by Fairfax.

Nine only wants to keep Fairfax's metropolitan mastheads: The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and The Australian Financial Review. The other newspapers are a separate business called Australian Community Media.

"The sale of ACM is aligned with our strategy to exit non-core businesses and to focus on Nine's portfolio of high-growth, digital assets," Nine chief executive Hugh Marks said in a statement. "We will retain a commercial relationship with ACM and look forward to continuing to work with the business in areas where there are mutual benefits to both Nine and ACM," he added.

Marks told staff in an email that Catalano and the Thorney Investment Group are "owners who see the future potential of the ACM business." "They are well positioned to realize that future in a way that Nine as a public company would have limitations of doing," Marks added.

Catalano described the price as "fair value" and said he expected the newspapers' profitability to grow as they evolve into digital mastheads. "It wasn't a business that got a lot of Fairfax attention, let's call it 'love,' for want of a better work," Catalano told Australian Broadcasting Corp. "It'll have our 100% attention."

Catalano said he hoped to avoid shutting down any newspaper and did not expect to shed staff.

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