While the Federal Government’s response to the recommendations of the ACCC Inquiry into Digital Platforms shows Australia trying to get out in front, it has not done enough, fast enough, to address the current crisis in public interest journalism.
“One of the lessons of digital disruption is how fast it can affect or destroy existing industries”, says Professor Allan Fels, Chair of the Public Interest Journalism Initiative (PIJI).
“So now is the time for the Government to act, not defer”.
“Public interest journalism is dying before our eyes, particularly in rural, regional and suburban areas. There are already news deserts, decimated newsrooms and thousands of lost journalist jobs,” he says.
PIJI research shows that 68 per cent of metropolitan suburbs and 45 per cent of regional areas have already experienced a very sharp decline in journalism.
The ACCC Inquiry was initiated and driven by parliamentary concerns about the impact of digital platforms on Australian media, including the loss of advertising revenue that supports journalism.
However, the government has adopted only one of several important ACCC recommendations – to enhance the current regional publishers fund, albeit with a lack of clarity about whether this involves more funds.
“The Government has decided not to make further changes to the tax settings to support public interest journalism at this time. But it will be tragic for local communities and their dwindling newsrooms if the Government dismisses tax measures without conducting further study,” Professor Fels says.
“These communities face becoming less informed about their own local institutions – like councils and courtrooms – than the US Presidential race”.
Research released by PIJI last month points to the potential for tax rebates to return $380 million to public interest journalism.
“A range of initiatives need to be in play if we are to protect public interest journalism across the spectrum, from large commercial players to localised public broadcasting”.
“One needs only to look at the public benefit sparked by journalism surrounding the Banking Royal Commission to understand its importance in a healthy democracy,” Professor Fels says.
About the Public Interest Journalism Initiative
The Public Interest Journalism Initiative is a non-partisan organisation that conducts research and proposes policy solutions to ensure a sustainable future for public interest journalism. PIJI operates as a Major Research Project of the newDemocracy Foundation.piji.com.au