Albanese govt should reverse community media advertising cuts

By The Canberra Times
Updated September 14 2023 - 2:12pm, first published 5:30am
Watch: ACM reporters hit the streets around Tasmania, Victoria, and NSW to find out how regional Australians really feel about the upcoming Indigenous Voice To Parliament referendum.

Despite all the talk about the need for media diversity and trusted voices able to counter misinformation and lies on the Internet the loss of more than 200 newspapers in the past three years hasn't made very many headlines.

The reason is probably simple. Most of the casualties have been in rural and regional Australia.

Politicians, who are preoccupied with Twitter - sorry X - and Facebook feeds, don't seem to care that much about what they can't see. And, even if they do see, the response seems to lack urgency.

That is perhaps why the federal government's 70 per cent reduction in advertising spending across regional newspapers in the 2022-2023 financial year has gone unremarked. That spending for the most part has been redirected to the big US tech platforms that commodify the users of their ubiquitous social media feeds and devalue local news.

Good luck with finding your child's sports results buried within a plethora of irrelevant and often inane posts on Facebook, X, Instagram or whatever is coming next. You have to turn to your "local rag" - as small country papers have long been affectionately known - for that.

Regional and community newspapers put what's happening on their patch front and centre. They don't just serve their local communities, they are an integral part of them.

The Courier in Ballarat has been published continuously for 156 years, Bathurst's Western Advocate for 175 years, and Launceston's The Examiner for 181 years (since 1842). Their roots go deep.

No fewer than three separate parliamentary inquiries led by MPs from across the political spectrum have recognised this.

Their recommendations included guaranteeing the regional media a fair share of the government's existing advertising spend, extra funding for cadet journalist training to grow the pool of regional reporters and to commit to a tax rebate that supports public interest journalism. None of this has come to pass.

Labor responded swiftly before the last election to a steep rise in newsprint prices that threatened to decimate regional and community media by committing to emergency support and that short-term funding helped keep many papers in print.

But regional publishers - including ACM (which owns this masthead) and the member newspapers of Country Press Australia - say that restoring a fair share of the government's spending on advertising in regional and community papers will help give the industry more "certainty and sustainability".

In an open letter to the federal government published in The Canberra Times on Wednesday, the 300 newspapers represented by ACM and Country Press Australia have reminded Canberra's decision-makers that their local news serves the interests of more than nine million regional Australians. Despite this, they receive close to zero per cent of the government's ad spend.

Wednesday's special edition of The Canberra Times - featuring a largely blank back page carrying the statement "This should be an ad from the Australian Government" - was delivered to the Parliament House office of every minister, senator and member attending this week's sittings.

In Victoria the government has mandated that a full page of government advertising appear in every regional and community newspaper each week.

The federal government should be doing the same, not only to put its messages in front of highly engaged audiences but to support public interest journalism and trusted local news - just as millions of regional Australian taxpayers do every day when they buy their local paper or sign up as a digital subscriber.

Copies of The Canberra Times ready to be delivered to the Parliament House offices of all 76 senators and 151 lower house MPs.
Copies of The Canberra Times ready to be delivered to the Parliament House offices of all 76 senators and 151 lower house MPs.

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