Clarence MP Chris Gulaptis has described the announcement by Rupert Murdoch, that “printing newspapers in regional Australia was no longer viable” as “dark days for regional press” and called on the NSW Government to back independent newspapers.
Setting the scene for his speech in the NSW Parliament on Wednesday July 29, the Nationals MP told his colleagues: “It was a cold, early winter’s day on 29 May when the most powerful media baron in the world, Rupert Murdoch, decreed from his Manhattan penthouse that printing newspapers in regional Australia was no longer viable.
“He unilaterally announced the closure of more than 100 Australian print newspapers, including the … much-loved [News Corp] mastheads in the region that I represent…
“It was indeed a dark day for regional press.
“But then something quite remarkable happened: Clarence and Richmond valley locals ignored Mr Murdoch and decided that there was not only a future for regional newspapers but also a much better one with independently owned local titles.
“First, the Clarence Valley Independent, which had stopped printing two months earlier, got the presses rolling again—hats off to Anne Mazzitelli, John Warden and all the team in Yamba.”
Mr Gulaptis also spoke about other independent publications – The Richmond River Independent, The Northern Rivers Times and Heartland Magazine – that are striving to fill the print-publication void left by News Corp.
“They have done so much with no help from government,” Mr Gulaptis said.
“That needs to change.
“These are early spring days for these new ventures, but one late economic frost could leave them in serious strife.
“The New South Wales Government can do three things to significantly boost their sustainability.”
Mr Gulaptis said that the government “needs to advertise with these newspapers, not out of charity but because it is by far the most effective way of disseminating important information to local residents”.
He pointed out that “regional newspapers like the Clarence Valley Independent fared poorly with government advertising, because governments in Canberra and Sydney were lobbied by the big players: News Corp, Fairfax Media and APN” – a factor, he said, that made it “much easier for the bureaucrats organising the advertisements to execute state-wide advertising buys” at the exclusion of “independent publications”.
On this point, Mr Gulaptis said, secondly, “the government needs to establish a register of regional independent newspapers and begin to negotiate ad buys as soon as possible”.
Mr Gulaptis also urged the government to “reverse its decision … to remove the requirement for council notices to be advertised in newspapers and instead allow the relevant notices to be published on the council’s website”.
“That policy change was driven by lobbying from council general managers and there was zero industry consultation,” Mr Gulaptis said.
“It was designed to save councils money in a time of crisis but it had two dire, if predictable, consequences.
“First, it reduced transparency and denied people who take an interest in what their council is doing — mainly senior citizens — access to council decisions.
“Further, it removed a major revenue stream for regional New South Wales newspapers right at a time when they had lost most of their hospitality, tourism and real estate advertising.
“I have no doubt that the decision contributed to the two-month hiatus in printing of the Clarence Valley Independent.
“Thirdly, the government needs to recognise independent newspapers as a vital service to regional New South Wales and develop a grants program to help them flourish into viable and sustainable businesses.
“Not only does no such program exist at a state level; regional newspapers were also denied access to the government’s $10,000 COVID-19 support grant and $3,000 small business COVID-19 recovery grant.
“Incredibly, regional newspapers were excluded from the official list of highly impacted industries.”
Mr Gulpatis said the people working at the independent publications “are giving their blood, sweat, tears and dollars to provide a vital service to residents” in the region.
“I therefore call on the government to develop a new grants program that is specifically targeted at helping independent newspapers in regional New South Wales,” he said.
“… I ask the government to take the practical and affordable measures I have outlined to show those residents that we recognise they not only deserve but also are entitled to our support, along with our heartfelt thanks.”
Mr Gulaptis subsequently told the Independent that “we need a local media the people can trust – print in particular”.
“There’s so much crap on the digital media platforms and news gets confused and mixed up on social media; people don’t know what to believe and older people are left out of the loop [without access to printed newspapers].
“Most importantly, people need to be able to trust the news when they read it.
“With traditional print leaving the landscape, it’s left a big void.”
CVC’s GM responds to Gulaptis’s speech: www.clarencevalleynews.com.au/cvcs-gm-responds-to-gulaptiss-speech