Government’s $5m regional publishers grant labelled ‘wholly inadequate’ by industry union

The announcement that the Morrison Government would bring forward the release of $5m funding for regional and small publishers has been slammed by the industry’s union as ‘wholly inadequate’.

The $5m is part of a $48m Innovation Fund, announced in 2018, to support public interest journalism.

The Government’s funding for regional journalism hasn’t been well received by the industry

Marcus Strom, the federal president of the Media section of the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance (MEAA) called the funding “paltry”.

“The package announced by Communications Minister Paul Fletcher today is wholly inadequate,” said Strom.

“We are seeing newspapers that have served their communities for more 100 years shut their doors and lay-off workers, but the best the Government can offer is to bring forward a paltry $5m out of a $48m fund – a fund whose purpose is to promote regional journalism, local jobs and innovation.”

Several regional publications have already closed amid the outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19), with more expected to come. News Corp Australia has also ended the print schedule of its 60 community titles, although they will continue in a digital capacity.

“Aside from the miserly level of funding, there is still no process for applying for these funds – the Government says the funding guidelines will be available in coming days. But regional media outlets began shutting down last week; they need support now. They provide an essential service to their communities because big city media can’t focus on their localised issues,” Strom said.

“MEAA is concerned that by the time the regional publishers come to grips with the application process, deal with the red tape and find out if they are successful, it will be too little too late.”

Strom’s comments are supported by the Public Interest Journalism Initiative (PIJI). The body has called for an increase of public-service advertising over the next three months, by at least $100m, and asked that local news subscriptions become temporarily tax-deductible. Temporary relief on license fees for broadcast media and funding for a national newswire was also suggested by PIJI.

“The media industry was already under huge pressure before COVID-19, as revenue dissipated in the move online,” said PIJI chair Professor Allan Fels AO.

“But with this severe and sharp financial downturn as the economy comes to a standstill, publishers and broadcasters have watched remaining revenue dry up, seemingly overnight.

“Public interest journalism is essential infrastructure for any democracy, let alone when facing a health crisis of this magnitude.

“The government increasing public sector advertising among news media to support the communication of current health and isolation advice, would provide a much-needed injection of revenue to struggling local operations, replacing a proportion of integral lost advertising revenue.

“We are ready to work with government; all of these calls to action are achievable in a rapid time-frame.”

Other parties have offered up support for news outlets during the COVID-19 pandemic, with the Judith Neilson Institute announcing a short-term support package for the industry. The focus for the organisation is freelance workers, COVID-19 reporting and community radio stations.

Comparatively, Minister for Communications Fletcher has said regional and metropolitan publishers and content service providers producing public interest journalism will all be eligible for the Innovation Fund.

Fletcher said the money will be available as “quickly as possible”.

“As we face these unprecedented challenges together, the media’s role in producing quality news and providing Australians with timely and accurate information is crucial. This provides critical support at a time it’s needed most,” said Fletcher.

More information will be provided in the coming days via the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).


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