Fund money must not go to the huge media players

THE federal government’s recently-announced Public Interest News Gathering program could potentially hand money allocated to small and regional publishers to large and powerful commercial television and radio networks and media conglomerates such as News Corporation.

Country Press Australia, on behalf its 140 independent regional and local newspaper members, has been in discussions with the federal Communications, Cyber Safety and Arts Minister Paul Fletcher to prevent the allocation guidelines for the program producing unintended outcomes.

CPA president and publisher of the Gippsland Times, Bruce Ellen, said the Regional and Small Publishers Innovation Fund was established in 2018 “specifically to counter the media reform laws that favoured the large public companies and help sustain diverse media in Australia”.

“The recent announcement to expand this fund to potentially allow large media companies to access this funding program does the complete reverse,” he said.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority site itself states “the Innovation Fund is a three-year, $48 million grant program, which began in 2018. It is part of the Australian Government’s $60 million Regional and Small Publishers Jobs and Innovation package.”

“It has become clear that regional and small publishers could be sacrificed to the more powerful voices of the commercial television and radio networks and media conglomerates such as News Corporation unless careful consideration is given to the funding framework,” Mr Ellen said.

“It is unfortunate that the conglomerates seem to have the ear of government, yet regional and small publishers have the ears of 140 communities across Australia in the case of CPA, that they continue to serve.

“That News Limited could now share in a funding program specifically targeted to regional and small publishers, concocted to push through changes to media ownership rules of massive benefit to them and other media conglomerates at the expense of regional and small publishers, will only be to the detriment of society and the varied media voices in this country,” he said.

“The original turnover cap of $30 million must be maintained to ensure the continued integrity of the fund.”

Mr Ellen said the primary purpose of the Regional and Small Publishers Jobs and Innovation Program, the “production of public interest journalism as the primary purpose” of a recipient must be retained as part of the funding criteria.

The ACCC DPI final report also identified the continued support of public interest journalism in regional, local and remote communities as an area deserving particular attention and funding.

“The funding criteria must include a clear correlation to the direct resources applied by entities to the original production of locally generated public interest journalism in regional and local communities,” Mr Ellen concluded.