Australian MPs: Local Papers Should Receive At Least 20 Per Cent Of Government Print Ad Spend

The Australian government should review advertising expenditure across all departments and agencies and ensure at least 20 per cent of government print advertising is placed in regional newspapers, MPs have said.

In its report ‘The Future of Regional Newspapers in a Digital World’ the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Communications made a raft of recommendations to boost the local news media sector in Australia including government funding, and tax rebates for publishers and advertisers.

One of the headline measures was for long term advertising contracts to be drawn up with a minimum of 20 per cent of government print advertising to be placed in regional newspapers to  provide “certainty of income” for regional publications.

The measure would be cost neutral and able to be implemented within 12 months, the Committee said with an “independent process” established to select the newspaper outlets eligible to participate in the print advertising program.

Committee chair Dr Anne Webster MP said the local media sector plays “an important role in maintaining an interconnected community, and a healthy democracy.

She added: “A diversity of opinion from all sides of the political spectrum and coverage of local, as well as national issues, is essential to public debate. It is important we ensure the sector remains viable in the long-term.”

As part of its recommendations to boost the sector the Committee recommended that the government work with public service broadcasters to the facilitate partnerships with small regional publishers and broadcasters modelled on the Local News Partnership between the News Media Association and the BBC.

The Committee recommended that the government provides funding to help local publishers identify and implement sustainable business models, increase editorial functions, and implement effective technology to reach audiences.

The Australian government should also consider the viability of a tax rebate for regional newspapers and for regional businesses that support their local newspaper through a minimum advertising spend.

Looking at the impact of the  Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s News Media Bargaining Code, on the sector the Committee said the new regime had welcomed as an “effective means” to ensure that digital platforms engage in “good faith bargaining,” particularly with smaller publishers.

The Committee added: “The ACCC found that the rise of the digital platforms contributed to the continuing decline in advertising revenue. The impact of this reduction in advertising revenue is most evident in relation to local and regional news providers, which do not have the large potential audience of metropolitan and national titles.

“New digital-only publications have not replaced traditional news services and many news media businesses are still searching for a viable business model for the provision of journalism online.”

The Committee recommended that the government and the Australian Communications and Media Authority work with relevant digital platforms and news providers to ensure “appropriate transparency” in voluntary commercial deals.