A group of federal MPs has launched a push to recognise the value of Australian rural and regional newspapers to their communities and moved to ensure the papers receive a better share of government advertising.
Labor MP Nick Champion called on the Federal Government to consider reviewing the government spend in regional titles, accusing it of cutting back its expenditure with these publications.
He formally moved in the House of Representatives on Monday that the government “stop discriminating” against regional papers through government advertising changes. A number of MPs from both sides of politics spoke in support.
Mr Champion’s motion follows discussions between Country Press Australia and the Federal Government about how the government can improve communications with regional Australians. A similar motion was put by opposition whip Anne McEwen in the Senate.
Country Press Australia said a number of government programs relevant to rural and regional communities had not been advertised in these mastheads.
Mr Champion, the member for Wakefield in South Australia, said papers in his electorate like The Bunyip, The Leader and Northern Argus were very important, trusted sources of information for their respective communities.
“Several times as a local member, and also as a candidate for public office, I have advertised in these papers. I can attest to their efficacy in terms of advertising dollars”
“Several times as a local member, and also as a candidate for public office, I have advertised in these papers. I can attest to their efficacy in terms of advertising dollars,” Mr Champion said.
“Given that eight million people live in rural and regional settings, and given they deserve information from the government as much as people who live in the cities, you would not expect this government to cut regional advertising in the papers in the 2015-16 year by 20 to 30 per cent over what it was in 2014-15.”
MPs from the government and the opposition spoke passionately about the importance of rural and regional newspapers in response to the motion.
Liberal Eric Hutchinson, member for Lyons in Tasmania, told the House of Representatives about the value of local papers like the Launceston Examiner in his electorate.
“I want to urge all to advocate to protect these businesses. They are an important part of healthy rural and regional communities. In contrast to other media, newspaper audiences have never been bigger, whether it be online or in print editions,” Mr Hutchinson said.
Andrew Nikolic, Liberal member for Bass in Tasmania, said maintaining a viable rural and regional press is in the best interest of regional communities
“In the digital age, newspapers today must be innovative and adaptive. Government policy should similarly acknowledge contemporary realities and encourage local ownership and a fair playing field”
“In the digital age, newspapers today must be innovative and adaptive. Government policy should similarly acknowledge contemporary realities and encourage local ownership and a fair playing field,” Mr Nikolic said.
Richard Marles, Labor Member for Corio in Victoria spoke about the value of Geelong’s daily newspaper, Geelong Advertiser.
“Without it, our story would not be told, and without our story being told it would be hard to characterise the same sense of identity. We might just be another outer suburb of Melbourne,” he said.
Catherine King, member for Ballarat said it was critical regional newspapers were supported.
“It is also important that when advertising important government programs whether it be things like tax help or whether it be particular tax concessions or small business concessions that those smaller regional newspapers are also seen as a really good conduit into those communities,” Ms King said.
“They are often the paper that people will read. They may not necessarily read The Australian —some will but not all—but they will pick up the local paper that covers that area.”
A spokesperson from the Department of Finance said regional advertising had not been cut and projections on the government spend were highly speculative, as only four months of the current financial year have elapsed.
The government does not disclose expenditure against specific sub-sectors like regional or community press, however in 2013-2014 financial year newspaper expenditure was $16 million or 15 per cent of total campaign advertising.
“The newspaper sector in general and the regional newspaper sub-sector in particular are important components of the government’s campaign advertising”
“The newspaper sector in general and the regional newspaper sub-sector in particular are important components of the government’s campaign advertising,” the spokesperson said.
“Regional newspapers will continue to be considered for individual advertising campaigns—as with any other sector or sub-sector of the media market—to ensure that expenditure is efficient, effective and relevant across all media and consistent with each campaign’s objectives.”
Expenditure for 2014-2015 will be released shortly in the Department of Finance’s annual report.
Country Press Australia president Paul Thomas said country newspapers were a reliable, trusted medium and that it was a positive step to have the CPA’s plight represented in Federal Parliament.
“Many recent government programs haven’t been effectively communicated with regional Australians,” Mr Thomas said. “Campaigns like My Aged Care, The Green Army, Jobactive and the Free Trade Agreement, the $20,000 accelerated tax depreciation – all of these campaigns were completely missed in our papers, or limited to a specific number only.”
“Many local MPs from all sides of Parliament have become involved because they understand the value and influence regional papers have in their communities.”