Bipartisan support for local media

The Star News Group office in Pakenham. 172640_01 Picture: GARY SISSONS

Federal Labor has announced a $15 million pledge, if elected to Government, to support media publishers hit by steepling newsprint costs.

The rescue package was swiftly matched by the Federal Government, sealing bipartisan support for independent outer-suburban publishers such as Star News Group.

On 13 May, Labor opposition communications spokesperson Michelle Rowland said ithe ALP would support local media diversity and public-interest journalism with a “principles-based, evidence-informed and sustainable” approach.

“Regional and local newspaper publishers remain exposed to external shocks, such as newsprint price increases which threaten to wipe out local newspaper titles for good,” Ms Rowland said.

“Labor raised the alarm on the newsprint crisis last month and extended bipartisan support for the formulation of a crisis response during the pre-election caretaker period.

“If Scott Morrison had done his job properly by supporting public interest journalism with measures that were recommended well before Covid-19 and the war in Ukraine, the sector would have been on a more sustainable footing to absorb this price increase.”

The package includes a $10 million fund for regional publishers, and $5 million for independent suburban, First Nations and multicultural newspaper publishers.

Ms Rowland also announced a $12 million fund for community broadcasting, and would keep community TV station Channel 31 on air.

She said regional, local and community media faced “challenges and uncertainty” because of “Scott Morrison’s failure to provide policy coherence or a stable set of support measures to help sustain the local media that millions of Australians rely on”.

“It is unacceptable that the Liberal National government has distributed tens of millions in grants without a clear plan.”

Days earlier, the Coalition offered $10 million support to regional newspapers only.

It caused an outcry from snubbed outer-suburban publishers such as Star News Group.

After the ALP promise, Communications Minister Paul Fletcher swiftly matched the extra $5 million for independent suburban, First Nations and multicultural publishers.

“The Coalition Government recognises the important role our local newspaper publishers play in keeping Australia’s communities informed,” Mr Fletcher said.

“We also understand they are under pressure due to the dramatically rising costs of newsprint driven by ongoing volatility overseas.

“We will move urgently to deliver the funding, with payments expected to be made early in the new financial year.”

Mr Fletcher said the Coalition remained concerned about the impact of “Labor’s safeguard mechanism” on increasing costs for paper manufacturing in Australia and the “flow-on impacts that will have for the future of our local newspapers”.

According to the Government, newsprint costs are expected to rise by up to 80 per cent from 1 July due to multiple worldwide factors.

They include international demand, Covid, the war in Ukraine, rising input costs in Europe, oil prices and global shipping issues.

Star News Group publishes newspapers in the South East, including Pakenham-Berwick Gazette, Berwick Star News, Cranbourne Star News and Dandenong Star Journal.