MEAA petitions ACM to reopen regional mastheads: ‘Our regions deserve and need better’

The union for members of the media and arts industries has launched a petition imploring Australian Community Media (ACM) to reopen the regional and rural titles it closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a heartfelt letter addressed to ACM CEO Allen Williams, the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) said the titles have belonged to communities for decades and as such the communities deserve to have them reinstated.

“Right now, our regional communities need relevant, factual news more than ever. Your decision to shut down newspapers across the country — without warning, consultation, or any promise that they will return in the same capacity — leaves our communities high and dry, at a time when we need to be connected and informed,” reads the letter.

“ACM may own the affected publications now, but they have belonged to our communities for many decades and generations, through the wars, the depressions and countless natural disasters. We are deeply saddened and disappointed with the way ACM has handled this decision, with no transparency for staff or for readers.”

The MEAA goes on to make the point that for some community members, the internet is not an option, leaving only local newspapers to provide the ‘vital service’ of keeping Australians informed.

“We know that the promise you made to loyal subscribers of ‘limited news coverage’ will sometimes be only one person writing for multiple mastheads, with the rest of the content filled in by content from other websites. It’s just not good enough.”

The petition implores the publisher to reopen every title to its pre-COVID-19 capacity, undertake every possible attempt to secure government support, communicate openly with staff and be transparent about the closures and roles impacted.

The petition asks Australians who are concerned about the lack of local news to reach out to ACM and their local government members regarding the closures.

The MEAA has already been open about its plans to investigate ACM following the decision to close four printing presses and suspend a number of non-daily titles across the country. The union said it may be necessary to take the publisher to the Fair Work Commission over the incident, citing the ‘disrespectful’ manner staff were treated.

A former resident of South Australia has taken it upon themselves to launch a local paper in the Naracoorte region, following the closure of the ACM-owned title in the area. Yet ACM boss Antony Catalano seems to be on the hunt for acquisitions, with talks between him and News Corp Australia only ceasing last week when News Corp ended them.

ACM has been approached for comment.

According to the Public Interest Journalism Initiative (PIJI), 150 newsrooms have been closed since January 2019 with the number rising steeply after the outbreak of COVID-19. Regional papers have been hit especially hard as they struggle to overcome the economic issues related to the virus. 


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