CANBERRA, AAP – The federal government should support regional newspapers through a greater share of advertising, funds for research, targeted grants and even tax rebates.
That’s the finding of a multi-party inquiry into the struggling media sector which reported to federal parliament on Wednesday.
Communications committee chair Dr Anne Webster said regional newspapers had experienced significant challenges over the past decade.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission found between 2008 and 2018, 106 titles closed across the country leaving more than 20 local government areas without a single or regional newspaper.
Another more recent estimate put the figure at closer to 260 titles.
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“For people in regional, rural, or remote communities, regional newspapers are the main source of local information,” Dr Webster said.
“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.”
The committee report included 12 recommendations including further studies into the long and short term viability of the industry, a national register of regional news providers, and partnerships between the ABC, SBS and small regional publishers and broadcasters.
As well, the government should ensure a minimum of 20 per cent of its print advertising goes to regional newspapers to provide certainty of income.
Targeted grants should be made available, and a study undertaken into a tax rebate for regional businesses to support their local newspaper and for newspapers to hire local reporters.
Modelling by the Public Interest Journalism Initiative showed a 50 per cent research and development style tax rebate could inject up to $711 million into the sector, at a cost of $375 million to taxpayers.