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Regionals ‘in limbo’ on media reform funds

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Regional publishers remain in the dark on the benefits from the Australian government’s media reforms and await details of how monies from an innovation fund set up by the legislation will be distributed.

The impact of the reforms will the part of a presentation today to a Queensland Country Press Association conference by Star News Group managing director Paul Thomas.

Country Press Australia was involved in negotiations with Senator Nick Xenophon on the reforms following an appearance at the Public Inquiry into Public Interest Journalism in August.

The regional body championed Senator Xenophon’s initial proposal for 40 per cent tax breaks for small to medium sized publishers, which would have eased the financial strain on independents.

The federal government rejected this proposal in favour of a $60.4 million Innovation Fund, which would be available to small and regional Australian media organisations whose primary purpose was the production of civic and public-interest journalism.

The funds will be allocated over three years to allow newsrooms to upgrade equipment and software, and training.

“Ultimately, the government negotiated with Senator Xenophon and their package was quite different,” Mr Thomas said.

“Don’t get me wrong, we are happy to get any support but we do believe there would have been a much greater benefit to ensuring quality journalism well into the future if they had gone ahead with the proposed changes that were originally on the table.”

Country Press Australia is part of the advisory committee for the fund, alongside the Australian Communications and Media Authority and several other representatives, which will decide where the funds will be allocated.

Mr Thomas believes this process will determine the success of the fund.

“The ultimate $60.4 million package is obviously something of benefit; yet to be determined is all the details. Just how much benefit that is and where the money goes is going to be important.

“But yes, absolutely we would hope it will have an impact and when you have got $60 million going out, you would hope that it does,” Mr Thomas said.

Mr Thomas’ presentation at the Queensland Country Press Association conference will reflect on the developments of the association in the past year, including government discussions and enterprise agreements, and the future of regional news media in light of the recent reforms.

Other speakers include News Corp Australia’s executive general manager – Qld Regionals & NT Simon Irwin and NewsMediaWorks’ ad regulation director Lianne Richards.

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