Vital sources of local news should be better supported by government and outdated media legislation amended, a parliamentary inquiry has found.
Among the recommendations from the inquiry was that local and regional newspapers should receive a greater proportion of government advertising, of at least 20 per cent, which could be achieved within 12 months.
The longevity of local news outlets was called into question during the inquiry, which also heard some communities had lost "local champion" reporters who had always advocated on their behalf. A further comprehensive review by government was needed, the inquiry, established by Communications Minister Paul Fletcher last year, found.
Among the key recommendations were:
Anne Webster, who chaired the inquiry, said regional newspapers represented a large and diverse industry, which had experienced significant challenges, but assessing its health was more important than ever before.
"For people in regional, rural, or remote communities, regional newspapers are the main source of local information. It also plays an important role in maintaining an interconnected community, and a healthy democracy," Dr Webster said.
"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."
ACM managing editor Tony Kendall welcomed the committee's support for a number of the practical measures recommended by the company as well as the need to review and amend outdated media legislation.
"The communities we serve all over Australia will be heartened to see that federal MPs recognise the need for action to support the local news that keeps them informed, connected and strong," Mr Kendall said.
"Ensuring that regional newspapers get a fair share of advertising expenditure across all government departments and agencies is one way to provide more certainty of income for local news publishers," he said.
"Likewise, a tax rebate for regional businesses that support their local newspaper through advertising spend would support the public interest journalism that regional Australians demand and deserve."
"I'm sure regional voters who care about their communities will be watching this issue closely as we head to the election," he said.
The inquiry was initiated in response to around 100 local and regional newspaper mastheads, which ceased printing during and leading up to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Free TV Australia's Bridget Fair said that regional Australia should also not be left behind in the era of streaming TV, calling for broadcasting policy that supports dependable and free access to news and sport for all Australians.
The government's $40 million broadcasting spectrum tax in 2017 had disproportionately affected regional broadcasters, Ms Fair said.
"Events at home and abroad over recent years have underlined how important it is for regional and rural communities to be well served with reliable local commercial TV services," she said.
"We are living through an age of great innovation in the delivery of TV services, especially through the new streaming platforms. Clarity from government is essential to ensure the people of regional and rural Australia continue to be able to access their free-to-air TV services far into the future."
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