The Federal Government announced a $50 million support package on Wednesday to help Australian media companies, particularly regional outlets, through the COVID-19 pandemic.
The announcement comes after many regional newspapers have been forced to stop publishing print editions and stand down staff, with Australian Community Media suspending several non-daily mastheads and temporarily closing printing locations.
Regional broadcasters Prime Media Group, WIN Corp and Southern Cross Austereo are also preparing to potentially stop news bulletins and shut down broadcast signals.
The $50 million Public Interest News Gathering program will support journalism across newspapers, radio and television in regional Australia.
Radio and television broadcasters will also receive $41 million in spectrum tax rebates.
Member for Euroa Steph Ryan said the pandemic had placed businesses in regional and rural towns, including broadcasters and newspapers, under significant financial pressure.
“Our local journalists work incredibly hard to cover the stories that matter to our communities,” Ms Ryan said.
“They report on everything from sporting, school and community events and help drive local issues to ensure the community’s voice is heard and decision-makers are held to account.”
Ms Ryan said regional media outlets had suffered a sharp downturn in advertising due to the pandemic.
“Over the past few weeks we have sadly seen the collapse of many regional media outlets across the state, including Mildura’s Sunraysia Daily and the Swan Hill Guardian,” she said.
“The McPherson Media Group, which prints local publications including Benalla Ensign, Country News, Seymour Telegraph, The McIvor Times, Shepparton News and Campaspe News have also had to lay off staff.
“Now more than ever, communities need local journalists as a trusted source of information.”
The downturn in advertising has affected the North Central Review, The Free Press and the Whittlesea Review, as well as sister newspapers the Alexandra Standard and the Yea Chronicle.
Owner Celina Mott welcomed the Federal Government’s announcement, but said newspapers also needed the support of local businesses placing advertisements.
“If businesses that are doing well don’t put their hands in their pockets and take out advertising, the only thing propping us up will be the government,” she said.
“We’ve seen a significant drop in advertising because people who would normally take a whole or half page are struggling to even put an ad in.
“Our main advertisers before the pandemic were restaurants, real estate agents, retailers and car dealerships so now that there’s been such a massive impact on them, the flow-on effect is they don’t want to buy ads.
“We’ve seen a huge reliance on federal and state Government advertising, which has been fantastic that that’s come in, but we can’t get to a point where we don’t have any local advertising.”