Regional media sector to receive $50 million in funding

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The Federal Government today announced a $50 million Public Interest News Gathering program and tax relief for commercial TV and radio in a suite of measures to support Australia’s media sector during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The announcement follows the closure of more than a dozen publications around the country due to reduced advertising revenue during the pandemic.

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

The package provides $41 million in spectrum tax rebates, offering immediate financial relief to commercial television and radio broadcasters across Australia.

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

Minister for Communications Paul Fletcher said the Federal Government is acting to offer urgent short-term support to the media sector.

“The Government recognises that public interest journalism is essential in informing and strengthening local communities,” Mr Fletcher said.

The Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance (MEAA) welcomed the announcement, but said a long-term plan is required to ensure the sector’s future.

While guidelines for accessing the new package are still being prepared, MEAA says they must reflect the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission’s recommendation that the funds are used for local news reporting in regional communities.

Today’s announcement picks up recommendations from the ACCC’s digital platforms inquiry; however, that inquiry called for ongoing annual funding, while today’s announcement only applies for this year.

COVID-19 has effectively halted production of Australian screen content, making it impossible for free-to-air and subscription television businesses to meet their overall 55% Australian content obligation.

“As an emergency red tape reduction measure, I have suspended Australian drama, children’s and documentary content obligations on free-to-air and subscription television for 2020,” Mr Fletcher said.

A decision will be taken before the end of this year as to whether this suspension should continue in 2021.

The Government is accelerating its work to determine the future extent of Australian content obligations on free-to-air television broadcasters, and whether these should apply to streaming services.

To guide this work, the Government is today releasing an Options Paper, developed by Screen Australia and the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).

Consultation with key stakeholders, including ministerial roundtables, will occur over the next eight weeks.

Ian Cubitts
Ian Cubitts