Australian media reforms

I was asked what I thought about the recently brokered “media reforms” in Australia. These include: 

  • Repeal of the “two-out-of-three” rule and the 75 per cent-reach rule;
  • Creation of a one-off $50 million innovation fund for smaller and regional publishers, whose turnover is between $300,000 and $30 million. This is capped at $1 million per publisher and available from mid-2018; and
  • Creation of 200 cadetships and 60 scholarships.

The Government will also ask the ACCC to inquire into the advertising practices of Google and Facebook and their impact on journalism.

My views were sought as a former regional newspaper editor. I have worked for independent publishers, News Corp, Fairfax and WA Newspapers across four states and two territories.

It should be noted that Fairfax owns most of the regional and rural news outlets in Australia and they won’t be eligible for the innovation fund.

I believe the package is a small gesture and very late, but better than nothing. The bigger players wanted relaxation of the ownership restrictions, while Nick Xenophon has ensured there is something for small independents.

There has been a massive decline in regional publishing standards over the past 20 years. Small towns that used to have a local editor (such as Ceduna, where I worked in 1992-93) are now edited from hundreds of kilometres away and staffed by cadets.

The Xenophon reforms will be welcomed in regional South Australia where there are eligible publishers in the Adelaide Hills, Barossa, Mount Gambier, the Riverland and Yorke Peninsula. They will be grateful for any assistance and it should enable them to hire extra staff and expand their coverage.

The assistance could also enable start-ups in regional areas and boost diversity. A new player just needs to demonstrate turnover of $300,000.

The promised ACCC inquiry is very positive. It will hopefully flush out the true impact of Facebook and Google on advertising.

Ultimately these companies need to pay more tax or some kind of levy, which should go towards supporting public interest journalism.

media reforms Australia

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