Newspaper publishers have again called on the federal government to urgently unlock funds to assist regional and community newspapers, amid fears of further stand downs and closures.
Publishers are concerned that the federal government’s recent Public Interest News Gathering program (PING), announced last week, could potentially hand funds allocated to small and regional publishers to large and powerful commercial television and radio networks and media conglomerates such as News Corporation.
Country Press Australia, on behalf its 140 independent regional and local newspaper members, has been in discussions with the Federal Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts, Paul Fletcher, to prevent the allocation guidelines for the PING program producing unintended outcomes.
CPA president Bruce Ellen said: “It has become clear that regional and small publishers could be sacrificed to the more powerful voices of the commercial television and radio networks and media conglomerates such as News Corporation unless careful consideration is given to the funding framework.
“It is unfortunate that the conglomerates seem to have the ear of government, yet regional and small publishers have the ears of 140 communities across Australia in the case of CPA, that they continue to serve.
“That News Limited could now share in a funding program specifically targeted to regional and small publishers, concocted to push through changes to Media Ownership rules of massive benefit to them and other media conglomerates to the further detriment of regional and small publishers will only be to the detriment of society and the varied media voices in this country.”
Star News Group managing director Paul Thomas said: “The Federal
Government’s recent announcement to provide $50 million to regional media looks great as a headline but looking at the detail it appears the government is more interested in placating the large media players once again by taking a fund specifically for small independent media organisations and handing it out to the largest in the country.
“The funds were specifically allocated to small and regional publishers in a deal done in 2017 to enable the media reform legislation. News Corporation were heavily involved in negotiating the establishment of the fund benefiting smaller publishers and ensuring the small independent publishers as the voice of their communities were not impacted.
“News Corporation wanted the media reform laws changed but the cross benches insisted on the establishment of the fund. Now News Corporation and other large public media companies are likely to be by far the biggest beneficiaries of these same funds.
“At a time when small independent media organisations and the communities that rely on them need this funding most, it’s now being handed to the rich and powerful.”
The Regional and Small Publishers Innovation Fund was established in 2018 specifically to counter the media reform laws that favoured the large public companies and help sustain diverse media in Australia.
Last week’s announcement to expand those funds to potentially allow large media companies to access those funds does the complete reverse, the CPA warned.