Union urges government to open up $40m fund to regional publishers and prevent further closures

As the impacts of COVID-19 force small newspapers to shutter, the union for journalists is urging the government to grant such publishers access to $40m in funding to stay afloat.

The Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) said the funds have already been allocated to a Regional and Small Publishers Jobs and Innovation Package, but this must be repurposed into a survival fund. Regional papers including the Sunraysia Daily, Swan Hill Guardian, Gannawarra Times, Yarram Standard and Great Southern Star have already closed due to the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

To prevent further closures, MEAA has asked Communications Minister Paul Fletcher to make the $40m available to regional publishers now. It is also maintaining that the government should provide additional funds to support regional media owners, and place public health advertisements in regional and small publishers to counter the steep loss of advertising revenue.

“Local publications in particular are lifelines for their communities; they know them intimately. We are concerned about what will fill the void left by their closure. In such a vacuum, misinformation and ‘fake news’ can flourish,” said MEAA Media Federal President, Marcus Strom.

“While most of the rest of us are locked in our homes, many journalists will still be out risking their health to inform the community.

Strom added that “governments should be doing all they can to ensure that it [regional media] can continue”.

“But newspaper proprietors must also do their part,” he said.

“They must explore alternative avenues to keep their communities informed rather than take the drastic and unacceptable step of shutting down publications, as has begun happening in regional Victoria.

“We understand the financial pressures publishers are experiencing and offer our help to negotiate ways of easing this burden, but closing the doors at this time would be a betrayal of their workforce and a betrayal of their communities.”

Sunraysia Daily is the only daily newspaper in the Mildura region and will close in its centenary year. Staff have been stood down indefinitely, and the title hopes to return at some point in the future.

In Victoria’s South Gippsland region, closures include the Yarram Standard, which is 145-years-old, and the 130-year-old Great Southern Star.


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