Regional newspaper companies, including Australian Community Media which owns this masthead, are asking for urgent federal government help in the face of an existential crisis brought about by a dramatic rise in the cost of newsprint.
Proprietors have known for some time Australia's only newsprint manufacturer was planning to increase its prices and had factored in a 30 per cent jump in the cost of paper. What they could not prepare for was an actual increase in the cost of the product of 80 per cent.
There would be few businesses in the country which could absorb such an increase in the cost of a vital raw material in one hit.
This is why ACM, in conjunction with the Country Press Association, has appealed to the Communications Minister Paul Fletcher for emergency funding to soften the immediate impact of the new pricing structure.
While Mr Fletcher is yet to accede to the request, Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce has spoken out in support of regional newspapers saying they play a vital role in the lives of the communities they serve and needed to be protected.
"You can't have a democracy even in regard to local government levels unless you've got investigative journalism," he said. "You mightn't like them all the time but they're vitally important for getting the stories out".
Although the federal government is already considering recommendations for assistance to regional and community mastheads following the recent parliamentary inquiry into regional newspapers there are fears this may come too late. Labor's communications spokeswoman Michelle Rowland and opposition leader Anthony Albanese have flagged bipartisan support for an immediate positive response.
The CPA and ACM want an urgent intervention in the form of emergency funding to stop mastheads, some of which have served their communities for up to 150 years or more, from falling off a cliff. Longer term assistance, based on the recommendations to the parliamentary inquiry, would then provide a bridge to a more sustainable future.
Key recommendations from ACM to the inquiry included tax concessions for newsprint purchases, tax rebates for local businesses that take out advertising in their community masthead and a minimum spend by the federal government on advertising in regional print media.
Ms Rowland, who noted "news deserts" were already emerging in regional areas as media outlets wound back or, in some courses, even shut down their operations, said the newsprint crisis was "a terminal threat to local newspapers already on a knife-edge".
According to a report released by the ACCC in 2019 there were already 21 local government areas which were not covered by a single newspaper. That has jumped to 31 LGAs since the start of the pandemic.
Those communities no longer have a local newspaper reporter covering the monthly council meeting, interviewing election candidates, covering its courts or reporting on residents' concerns, sporting achievements and the fabric of people's lives.
These are all examples of the community good local newspapers provide and just part of the reason why they deserve taxpayer assistance.
This latest blow could not have come at a worse time for a trusted media sector that has already been decimated by droughts, bushfires, the pandemic and floods over the past five years.
With the price rises to take effect on July 1 time is short. Unless a rescue package is developed soon it may be too late for some communities to save the local newspaper that has recorded their achievements, stories, trials and tribulations for decades.
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