Five million fund ’won’t be enough’

Star News Group managing director Paul Thomas.

By Mitchell Clarke

A Federal Government announcement to release $5 million from the Regional and Small Publishers Innovation Fund won’t be enough to sustain 140 local newspapers, Country Press Australia (CPA) has stated.

The industry body welcomed the announcement however urged the government to release the remaining $48 million from the fund to assist small and regional publishers of public interest journalism.

Star News Group managing director Paul Thomas questioned how that amount of money would assist struggling media businesses, who are now also faced with the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.

“It is disappointing that the Federal Government does not recognise the size or importance of the news industry,” Mr Thomas said.

“We are the fourth estate, a key pillar of democracy yet the Federal Government clearly has no value or idea about the importance of our role and sector.”

The fund was established in 2017 as a direct result of the larger media companies lobbying the Federal Government to make changes to media laws.

As stated on the Department of Communications website, the fund intends to help small metropolitan and regional publishers adapt to the challenges facing the contemporary media environment.

The money is also designed to create employment opportunities for cadet journalists and support regional students to study journalism.

“The easiest thing would be for our business to simply close and ’hibernate’ like the Murdoch-owned Leader papers have decided to do, but as a locally owned independent news organisation we see our role as too important to do that,” Mr Thomas explained.

Mr Thomas added the company was “fortunate” following support from the State Government, local government and local politicians.

“Clearly the value and importance of a local voice for the disadvantaged, our role of ensuring we hold the powerful to account and being a conduit for the community is well recognised locally,” he said.

“We take that role seriously and our audiences have never been greater. Our communities trust us and a trusted new source is needed now more than ever.”

CPA president Bruce Ellen said the majority of the money from the fund should have already been distributed as part of the three-year funding agreement.

“The Morrison Government needs to release all the funds and maintain the intentions of the fund for smaller independent operators,” Mr Ellen said.

“It is vital this fund continues to be for small and regional publishers and is not once again handed to the large public company media organisations who have scale and diversity that small publishers do not have.

“Many publishers with low overheads have already had a significant boost with the JobKeeper Allowance. Online businesses with low overheads and large salaries will benefit.

“Newspapers, on the other hand, have large overheads with printing and distribution and the fund was largely established to assist traditional small news media businesses.”

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