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2 April, 2022

Regional newspaper inquiry recommends government advertising commitment

By Lee O’Connor

By Supplied

Local news publishers are welcoming the recommendations from the federal government's inquiry into regional newspapers as a 'significant breakthrough' with potential to underpin the industry's longevity. 

The report from the Standing Committee on Communications and the Arts released their findings on Friday, March 25, providing a dozen recommendations for consideration.

Andrew Manuel, president of Country Press Australia, which represents more than 180 independent regionally-based news publishers, is now calling for bi-partisan support to make the proposed measures a reality. 

“This has been an important and productive inquiry, and the findings can make a real difference to help sustain independent regional news services into the future - if implemented,” Mr Manuel said.  

The recommendations made by the committee include ensuring 20 per cent of government print advertising is placed in regional newspapers, a measure that the committee expects will be cost neutral.  

“Regional newspapers are the perfect medium for reaching many regional Australians with important government messages, so it’s a wise and welcome recommendation to ensure more government advertising is placed with our local independent publications,” Mr Manuel said.  

He said that he expected broad political support for the recommendations due to the wide and diverse range of voices that were heard by the Inquiry.  

“There were clear and consistent themes presented to the Inquiry and at the very top of that list is how important having a local independent news service is to regional communities,” he said.  

Chair of the committee responsible for the inquiry, Dr Anne Webster MP said, ‘Regional newspapers in Australia represent a large and diverse industry, which has experienced significant challenges over the past decade. With the transition to digital news and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, assessing the health of our regional newspapers is more important than ever before.’ 

The committee recommended a multi-pronged approach to support the long-term viability of the sector, particularly for small and independent newspapers based in regional and remote Australian communities.   

They also recommended that the government considers the viability of a tax rebate for regional businesses that support their local newspaper through a minimum advertising spend, and for regional newspapers that produce public interest journalism and employ local journalists. 

‘For people in regional, rural, or remote communities, regional newspapers are the main source of local information. It also plays an important role in maintaining an interconnected community, and a healthy democracy. A diversity of opinion from all sides of the political spectrum and coverage of local, as well as national issues, is essential to public debate. It is important we ensure the sector remains viable in the long-term’, said Dr Webster. 

“Regional newspapers are the perfect medium for reaching many regional Australians with important government messages, so it’s a wise and welcome recommendation to ensure more government advertising is placed with our local independent publications,” Mr Manuel said.  

He said that he expected broad political support for the recommendations due to the wide and diverse range of voices that were heard by the Inquiry.  

“There were clear and consistent themes presented to the Inquiry and at the very top of that list is how important having a local independent news service is to regional communities,” he said.  

Inquiry chair Dr Webster also noted that regional newspapers have been "challenged for more than a decade by loss of revenue, loss of talent and rising costs, that have forced many to permanently close their doors”. 

"As newspapers close, readers are pushed towards social media for their news, which increases Australians’ exposure to misinformation and creates a disconnect in communities.” Dr Webster said in the report. 

The areas covered by the Gilgandra Newspapers’ titles – Gilgandra Weekly, Nyngan Weekly and the Narromine Star, are fortunately not "news deserts", frequently referred to in the inquiry describing local government areas without an operating newspaper, with the western region having no less than 11 independent commercial and community newspapers covering the 11 shires. 

However, the report's findings have been well-received by Gilgandra-based president of Country Press NSW Inc, Lucie Peart. 

"The recommendations give hope to many of our members who have continued to serve their communities through recent downturns and disasters," Mrs Peart said. 

"While many regional MPs fully recognise and support the value of local newspapers to their communities and do what they can to support us, the outdated legislation and the spending decisions of many government departments has accelerated the decline in newspaper revenue, pushing us closer to the brink." 

The Country Press NSW Inc will be gathering in Dubbo this week for their 121st annual general meeting and Mrs Peart says that government relationships with regional newspapers is always high on the agenda. 

"It was heartening to see this acknowledged in the committee's report and we sincerely hope that the recommendations are adopted as soon as possible by the Australian government," she said. 

"We also hope that this critical information is taken on board by our NSW government as well." 

 



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