Committee makes recommendations on Australian regional newspapers

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The House of Representatives Standing Committee on Communications and the Arts has released a report with recommendations to support Australian news services in rural, regional and remote areas.

chairman of the committee, Dr Anne Webster MP said: “Community 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 local newspapers is more important than ever.

The Committee made 12 recommendations aimed at addressing key industry issues and implementing alternative and sustainable business practices, to ensure the longevity of local newspapers across Australia.

Their first recommendation is that the Australian government undertake a comprehensive review of the viability of local newspapers in Australia, reporting its findings to the Committee within two years.

Next came the amendment to the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 to allow the Australian Communications and Media Authority to take into account the factors described in the research paper News in Australia: Diversity and Localism in determining whether there is a situation of unacceptable media diversity.

The report notes that the government should consider funding and developing a project to collect and analyze baseline longitudinal data on local newspapers in Australia over a minimum of 10 years.

The Committee recommended that the government consider legislative amendments that would allow the sharing of industry data on community newspaper providers between relevant government agencies.

He suggested that the government create and maintain a national, publicly accessible registry of regional news providers (print and digital), using the University of North Carolina’s US News Desert Project as a model.

Another recommendation is that the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications work with the ABC and SBS to facilitate partnerships with smaller regional publishers and broadcasters, modeled on the BBC Local News Partnerships scheme.

The government is also asked to review government advertising expenditures in all departments and agencies with a view to ensuring that a minimum of 20% of government print advertising is placed in regional newspapers.

The report says, “This should be part of long-term advertising deals that provide revenue certainty for regional publications. The Committee expects this measure to be cost neutral and can be implemented within 12 months.

“An independent process should be established to select newspapers eligible to participate in the print advertising program.”

In addition, it was recommended that the government develop a targeted grant scheme for small independent newspapers based in regional and remote Australian communities.

The report also recommended funding for research, programs and initiatives to help local publishers, including regional newspapers, to:

Identify and implement alternative and sustainable business models, achieved through a diverse range of revenue sources which may include advertising, audience generated revenue, services and e-commerce

Increase the capabilities required to fulfill the governance, administrative and editorial functions of the news organization

Implement effective technology to reach their target audience and monetize the results

As part of the review of the first recommendation, the report noted that the government should also consider the viability of a tax refund for regional businesses that support their local newspaper through minimal advertising expenditure. , and for regional newspapers that produce public interest journalism and employ local journalists.

The report also proposed that the Ministry of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications and the Australian Communications and Media Authority work with relevant digital platforms and information providers to ensure appropriate transparency in voluntary trade agreements.

The last of the recommendations is to amend the Consumer and Competition Act 2010 to require news media organizations to have revenues of $75,000 for the most recent year and for at least 3 out of 5 most recent years to register for the News Media and Digital Platforms Trading Code.

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

The approach includes funding and developing a project to collect and analyze basic longitudinal data on local newspapers in Australia.

Dr Webster said: ‘For people in regional, rural or remote communities, regional newspapers are the primary source of local news. 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 issues, as well as national ones, are essential to public debate. It is important that we ensure that the sector remains viable in the long term,” she added.

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