Government commits $5m to support AAP, upping value of Public Interest News Gathering program to $55m

The government has committed $5m in support for Australian Associated Press (AAP) under the Public Interest News Gathering (PING) program, just a week after AAP began a crowdfunding campaign with a $500,000 target.

The Go Fund Me campaign has so far raised almost $120,000 from 1,500 donors, after new chief executive Emma Cowdroy flagged the newswire’s intention to “try many things to get us through this tumultuous time”.

Cowdroy pointed to former part-owner News Corp’s competitor newswire, which is a “well-funded move [that] threatens AAP’s unique role, supplying independent content”. Supporting AAP is crucial to “protect an essential building block of media diversity”, the chief executive urged.

Minister Fletcher (left) with Prime Minister Scott Morrison

Communications Minister Paul Fletcher agreed with Cowdroy that AAP is “critical to media diversity” and provides a critical service to both metropolitan and regional areas.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has triggered unprecedented challenges for Australia’s regional media sector, with severe declines in advertising revenue threatening the sustainability of many news outlets,” Minister Fletcher said.

“The AAP Newswire provides services to more than 250 regional news mastheads across Australia, covering public interest content on national, state and regional news. This allows regional mastheads to concentrate on local news stories important for their communities.

“Importantly, AAP also provides regional stories for national distribution so that regional issues and voices are heard across the country.”

Fletcher said the $5m boost will “allow AAP to continue delivering its important news service for communities Australia-wide” and give it “more opportunities to secure additional private investment to support its long-term sustainability”.

A consortium of impact investors, fronted by former News Corp executive Peter Tonagh, took over AAP last month, ending 85 years of mainstream media companies owning the Keith Murdoch-founded newswire. To access the funding, AAP will enter into a funding agreement with the government, complete with guidelines in accordance with rules governing grants.

In June, the government unveiled the 107 publishers to received funding as part of the $50m PING program – which funds public interest journalism in regional communities throughout COVID-19 – and has since executed almost all grant agreements and issued first payments to 93 media companies. With the addition of the new AAP funding, the value of the program rises to $55m.

The Labor Party’s Michelle Rowland, shadow Communications Minister, said the funding was a “no brainer”, but “should have been done months ago”.

“I wrote to the Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister for Communications in April – two weeks before the Public Interest News Gathering Program (PING) was announced – calling for support to ensure the viability of regional and community media,” Rowland said.

“Why has it taken over five months for this government to respond when things are down to the wire?”

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