Media innovation fund hits roadblock as senators argue about overseas publishers

The Federal Government’s media innovation fund has hit a roadblock with essential legislation stalled in the Senate while politicians argue whether overseas owned media should be eligible for grants.

A cornerstone part of the deal negotiated by the Nick Xenophon Team to get last year’s media reforms passed, the innovation fund is worth $50 million over three years to small and regional publishers.

Griff: “There will be hell to pay.”

“It’s listed before the Senate and if it doesn’t get passed there will be hell to pay,” NXT Senator and communications spokesperson Stirling Griff told Mumbrella this morning. “It’s in everyone’s interests for it to be passed.”

The bill – which was tabled before the Senate late last year but is yet to be voted on – gives the Australian Media and Communications Authority the legal powers to run the fund, something it currently lacks.

Under the fund, publishers with an annual turnover between $300,000 and $30m in revenue will be eligible for a maximum of $1 million per year.

While explicitly excluding salaries, the fund is intended to cover equipment and capital costs for small publishers as they “transition, compete and innovate more successfully in a changing media environment”.

The original timetable for the fund had applications formally open earlier this year with the first round of recipients announced on June 1 and payments to begin on July 1.

With the bill stuck in Parliament, it appears unlikely the fund will be fully operational by the beginning of July as originally stated.

Further complicating the fund’s establishment is the appointment of an advisory panel to oversee its operations. This was to include representatives of the Walkley Foundation, the Press Council and Country Press Australia but to date none of them have been approached to sit on the panel.

A Walkley Foundation spokesperson told Mumbrella: “The Walkley Foundation has had no formal conversations with the Department, and no representative has been appointed, but we were named in documents regarding the Fund”

In response to Mumbrella’s inquiries, communications minister Mitch Fifield’s spokesperson told Mumbrella: “The Turnbull Government’s regional and small publishers innovation fund will provide much-needed support to assist small Australian publishers. Funding was allocated in the 2017-18 MYEFO statement last year and legislation to establish the Fund is currently before the Senate.

“The Government has consulted widely with publishers on the proposed arrangements for the Fund and will be able to commence a call for applications as soon as the enabling legislation passes.”

The statement from Fifield hints that part of the delay may be as a result of attempts to widen the scope of which media organisations are eligible for the funds. The original announcement said that only locally controlled media outlets would be eligible, effectively ruling out the likes of The Guardian which has a significant local operation but is headquartered in the UK.

Fifield: Greens amendment would ‘siphon’ funds to overseas players

Fifield’s statement said: “The Government calls on the Opposition to state its full support for the legislation and to reject the Greens’ attempts to pass amendments that would siphon much-needed funds to foreign internet-based outlets at the expense of small Australian publishers. Bipartisan support would ensure the Bill can pass expeditiously and funding support can begin to flow to successful recipients.

“The Minister will shortly be writing to a number of organisations, including The Walkley Foundation, to nominate representatives to the advisory committee.”


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