$50m offered to support 107 regional media operators

Communications Minister Paul Fletcher. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong
Communications Minister Paul Fletcher. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong

The Morrison government will provide 107 publishers and broadcasters with a share of $50 million in funding to support news services for regional Australians.

Communications Minister Paul Fletcher said the 2020-21 funding for applicants to the Public Interest News Gathering program would assist media businesses serving regional and remote parts of Australia.

"These are unprecedented circumstances in regional media, with COVID-19 triggering catastrophic drops in advertising revenue leading to many newspapers suspending operations and threatening the sustainability of regional broadcasters," Mr Fletcher said.

The program was a "specific and time-limited support measure, designed to assist the continued provision of quality news and information", with $20 million to flow to television from July, $18 million for publishing and $12 million for radio.

Mr Fletcher's announcement was welcomed by ACM executive chairman Antony Catalano.

ACM, the publisher of this website, had applied for the emergency funding and was considering the terms and conditions of the grant offered.

"ACM is pleased with the proposed grant allocation from the federal government," Mr Catalano said.

The announcement coincided with the return of many of ACM's suspended publications this week.

We are committed to producing the best quality news and information for regional Australians and we thank Minister Fletcher for the support he has provided to help us continue the important role we play in our communities

ACM executive chairman Antony Catalano

"The grant allocation to ACM reflects the commitment we have made to protecting our mastheads right around the country," Mr Catalano said.

ACM had made "the largest commitment to regional media in Australia and the allocation to ACM reflects the size and scale of our business," he said.

"Despite very difficult trading conditions, the ACM team has done an extraordinary job in ensuring we not only survive through this crisis but that our stable of more than 160 titles thrives as the economy recovers.

"We are committed to producing the best quality news and information for regional Australians and we thank Minister Fletcher for the support he has provided to help us continue the important role we play in our communities."

Mr Fletcher said public interest journalism was critical to keeping communities informed.

"The majority of the publishers receiving grants under this program operate small-to-medium businesses," he said.

"Local papers are the lifeblood of many towns across Australia. They connect communities and keep people informed."

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The $50 million program would "provide direct support for the continued provision of local and regional journalism, which has never been more important than in recent times when communities across Australia need access to trusted sources of news and information".

Of the 107 eligible applicants, 92 are publishers, 13 are radio broadcasters and five are TV broadcasters.

"Successful applicants will put these funds to good use to support a broad range of activities such as staff wages, training and technology upgrades that will allow them to keep delivering news that local communities need and want," Mr Fletcher said.

Applications were assessed through a demand-driven grant process conducted by the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications.

In determining funding amounts for each sector, the department considered the reach of each type of media and the revenue used to produce public interest journalism.

Under the program's guidelines, grants are conditional on publishers of suspended mastheads returning them to operation and recommencing print distribution.

The program is one of a number of assistance measures provided by the government to support public interest journalism and media businesses hit hard by the economic downturn caused by COVID-19 control measures.

As well as giving TV and radio operators a 12-month waiver of spectrum tax, the government has directed the ACCC to develop a mandatory code to govern commercial arrangements between digital platforms and news media businesses.

This story $50m offered to support 107 regional media operators first appeared on The Canberra Times.