Govt $50m support package for regional media 'doing it tough'

Government announces $50m support package for regional media

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SUPPORT: Communications Minister Paul Fletcher said the media sector was doing it tough, particularly in regional areas. Photo: Sitthixay Ditthavong

SUPPORT: Communications Minister Paul Fletcher said the media sector was doing it tough, particularly in regional areas. Photo: Sitthixay Ditthavong

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The support comes as dozens of regional newspapers suspend operations.

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The federal government has announced a $50-million support package for regional journalism, along with tax relief for television and radio stations.

The media sector is the latest industry to be hit by the economic affects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Yesterday, ACM, who owns this website, announced it would suspend many of its non-daily newspapers and four printing sites until the end of June, while News Corp closed several regional newspapers at the end of March.

Communications Minister Paul Fletcher said the government was acting to offer urgent short-term support to the sector.

"Many Australians are doing it tough right now and the media sector is sharing that pain, especially in regional areas," Mr Fletcher said.

"Broadcasters and newspapers face significant financial pressure and COVID-19 has led to a sharp downturn in advertising revenue across the whole sector."

The $50-million Public Interest News Gathering (PING) program will support public-interest journalism delivered by commercial television, newspaper and radio businesses in regional Australia.

"The government recognises that public interest journalism is essential in informing and strengthening local communities," Mr Fletcher said.

The government will provide $41 million in rebates for spectrum tax - which stations pay to broadcast their signal - to commercial television and radio broadcasters.

With many studios unable to film, the Australian screen content quota for Aussie drama, children's programs and documentaries has been suspend for 2020.

The government will also fast track a consultation process about how to best support Australian film and television, with the release of an options paper.

The $50m PING program will be funded with $13.4 million in new money as well as re-purposing unallocated funds from the government's Regional and Small Publishers Jobs and Innovation Package.

The news comes as a senior Labor politician said the government should consider regional newspapers as an 'essential service'.

In the electorate of Hunter MP Joel Fitzgibbon, more than 10 local papers will be suspended after ACM announced it cease operations for many of its sites until June 29.

Mr Fitzgibbon said the value of those papers to the community couldn't be overstated and the government should view them as an "essential service", particularly in this time of crisis.

"There are many local issues which might not be sufficient to make the Sydney Morning Herald, The Daily Telegraph or The Australian, but it's still a very important issue to the local community and worthy of coverage in the local paper," he said.

"We have to retain that.

"I think the government's consideration, they should consider these newspapers as essential services and therefore have them high on the list of priorities."

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