Local news at risk as regional media sweats on pandemic relief

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Regional media companies have urged the government to speed up the release of the $50-million relief package.

REGIONAL media companies have urged the Morrison government to speed up the release of guidelines for the $50 million COVID-19 relief package it trumpeted last month, warning more local news services are at risk.

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The government announced on April 15 the Public Interest News Gathering program would support journalism delivered by commercial television, newspaper and radio businesses in regional Australia

Communications Minister Paul Fletcher described the measures as "urgent short-term support to the media sector" but a spokesperson for the Department of Communications could not say this week when grant applications would open, only that it would happen "shortly".

Prime Media Group chief executive Ian Audsley said he would have liked to see the guidelines released two weeks ago.

"My concern is that it is likely to be too little too late and that more newsrooms will close before it is implemented," Mr Audsley said.

"Prime is not immune to the current environment, but we have a plan and we are working to that plan.

"The future shape of media companies is dependent upon their level of debt and where ad markets head from here."

Australian Community Media executive chairman Antony Catalano said Mr Fletcher had shown "great concern" for regional media but "time was ticking" for companies like ACM, the publisher of this masthead.

"We'd love to see the guidelines as soon as possible," Mr Catalano said.

ACM has temporarily suspended the operations of four press sites and the printing of a number of non-daily newspapers, with affected staff stood down until June 29.

"Establishing if we qualify for grants is incredibly important," Mr Catalano said.

"The more we know, the more we can protect jobs and mastheads."

Southern Cross Media Group operates almost 80 regional radio stations and more than 100 regional TV signals.

Chief executive Grant Blackley said "simple yet effective" guidelines were needed so funds could be swiftly implemented.

"The minister announced a set of initiatives 17 days ago, and we would urge the government to release guidelines at the earliest opportunity to afford urgent relief and certainty to regional media licence holders," Mr Blackley said.

The $50 million repurposes unallocated funds from the government's Regional and Small Publishers Jobs and Innovation Package, plus $13.4 million in new money.

WIN Corporation chief executive officer Andrew Lancaster said he was "very keen" to see the details of the package.

"Regional Australians are desperate to understand what is happening in their local areas and local news is more important than ever," Mr Lancaster said.

"WIN broadcasts more regional news bulletins and local news updates than any other broadcaster in Australia."

The story Local news at risk as media sweats on pandemic relief first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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