MICHELLE ROWLAND MP
SHADOW MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS
MEMBER FOR GREENWAY
PUBLIC INTEREST JOURNALISM DOWN TO THE WIRE
On the same day the closure of AAP was announced, the Government’s inability to address the decline of Australia’s media industry was laid bare.
Senate Estimates yesterday confirmed that this third term government has no real plan to support the Fourth Estate, only an agenda to cut public and community media.
The Department confirmed that the Minister will not exercise his discretion to extend broadcast licences for Community Television, expiring on 30 June 2020, despite the fact CTV supports local news and training for budding journalists and presenters.
Only last month, community service WTV Perth closed after years of uncertainty under this Government. Channel 31 Melbourne and Channel 44 Adelaide remain vibrant community television services and are striving to stay on air.
The ACMA confirmed that only $12 million out of a possible $32 million has been allocated out of the $50 million Regional and Small Publishers Innovation fund so far, and that funding approved 5 months ago is yet to flow to successful applicants.
The result of a poorly-conceived, eleventh-hour crossbench deal, and announced with much fanfare back in 2017 as part of “A new era for Australia’s media”, the fund has been beset by delays and barely been spent.
The tabling of the Minister’s letter of 2 March 2020 to the ABC indicates that Paul Fletcher’s big idea for addressing the deteriorating economics of regional media markets is for the ABC to consolidate its capital city property portfolio.
Senator Reynolds confirmed the Government remains in deep denial about whether it is even cutting ABC funding. Her repeated and insistent assertions that the Government isn’t cutting the ABC were flatly refuted by the ABC CFO.
The ABC Managing Director clarified that the ABC will be forced to absorb cumulative budget cuts amounting to $105.9m per annum by the 2022 financial year.
The ABC confirmed that it has covered 935 emergency broadcasting events this reporting period alone and, while many members across the Parliament have commended the ABC for its bushfire coverage, 200 jobs at the ABC are about to go.
Meanwhile, the closure of the AAP newswire service in June deals a devastating blow to our democracy, denying Australians of its extensive reporting and coming on top of the closure of 106 local and regional newspaper titles over the last decade as well as the closure of multiple television newsrooms.
AAP cited the impact of the digital platforms as the reason it is no longer viable to continue. The challenges of digital disruption didn’t arise overnight which is why Labor called for a broad ranging inquiry to support genuine reform back in 2016, but the Government rejected it.
The Final Report of the ACCC’s Digital Platforms Inquiry was published back in July 2019 but news media businesses face a wait until November 2020 before they know whether the voluntary code to address bargaining imbalances between the digital platforms is even workable.
The Minister’s letter to the ABC states that “A strategic plan which addresses the challenge of the modern media environment is crucial”.
It’s time the Minister took his own advice and produced an action plan to address the alarming decline in public interest journalism in Australia.
WEDNESDAY, 4 MARCH 2019