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A missed chance to help regional publishers

There is an effective way to guarantee the future of journalism in regional areas that is continually overlooked by the Australian government – support through advertising, says Country Press Australia president BEN TAYLOR.

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Polling shows that support for the federal government in regional Australia is on the slide, and Country Press Australia believes the gradual reduction in communication with voters on policies through local advertising is a major factor.

Country Press Australia represents independent non-daily newspapers in regional, rural Australia and recent News Corp Australia research through Newspoll confirms what CPA has been saying to the federal government: that it needs better communication with regional people through small, independent publishers.

While at CPA we welcome the government’s $60.4 million regional and small publishers’ jobs and innovation package, it needs to go further to ensure the future of quality journalism and reduce the impact of the online duopoly of Facebook and Google.

Independent regional publishers, through CPA as its representative body, had urged the government to support South Australian Senator Nick Xenophon’s proposed 40 per cent rebate on journalism costs.

In its submission to the Senate Inquiry into Public Interest Journalism, CPA lobbied to ensure a minimum advertising budget percentage allocation to communicate with regional Australians. It will continue to do so.

Senator Xenophon liaised directly with CPA. He clearly was committed to ensuring there was assistance for smaller, regional publishers in the wake of the significant media reforms.

Disappointingly, there was no direct contact or consultation from the office of Communications Minister, Senator Mitch Fifield

Had there been, it may have ensured a stronger, more robust package, that acknowledged and reflected the needs of smaller regional publishers.

The detail and eligibility criteria will be paramount to how far these measures will go in helping regional media organisations safeguard the future of public interest journalism.

CPA has been promised a seat on the group which will oversee distribution, which we welcome.

This is vital, to ensure that public funds have the greatest impact, among small, independent operators.

However, while we welcome the package that represents investment in business innovation, a cadetship program and journalism scholarships, it will go only so far. And it needs to be kept relatively simple in terms of applications. Red tape is the last thing these small operators have time for.

Country Press Australia member newspapers, all regional non-dailies, continue to have strong readerships, with upwards of 70 per cent of country people continuing to read their local newspaper. We have significant recent research across two states to prove this.

It is vital that the federal government, therefore, continues to communicate with regional Australians. Too often our member newspapers are left off advertising campaigns, meaning regional Australians often miss important government communications. The package should have included guaranteed messaging through our medium.

The government’s failure to adequately communicate is evidenced in the recent Newspoll analysis that shows the Coalition has fallen from 44 to 34 per cent support in the regions since last year’s federal election.

If the federal government, through its advertising agencies, believe that it will adequately get across their message digitally are ill-informed. Yes, those mediums have relevance and regional Australians are not without connection.

However, it is the small, independent newspapers that are the journal of record for their regional towns and communities. They provide a vital service in this regard that no other medium can match. They remain the trusted source of information; they remain the influential voice of their communities and continue to have a deep social engagement.

We urge the federal parliament to recognise this and act in the interests of its regional constituents. It is vital to government communication, it supports local business in regional Australia, it secures jobs and, importantly, it helps protect quality local, independent journalism.

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