Latest News

Independent newspapers falter, the Wild West awaits

Printed newspapers are pillars of democracy – if we erode those pillars it’ll be more like the Wild West.

Independent newspapers around the state are struggling as advertising revenue is reduced to a level akin to a leaky tap; meanwhile, the Shooters and Fishers and Farmers Party (SFFP) says the NSW Government is “hammering the final nail into regional media’s key revenue stream”.

In the background, many of those independent newspapers are lobbying Minister for Local Government Shelley Elizabeth Hancock and Nationals leader, Deputy Premier John Barilaro, to implement a scheme similar to the Victorian Government’s plan to purchase $4.7million of regional advertising.

The Victorian Government isbooking one page of print and digital advertising in more than 100 regional news outlets each week for six months.

The NSW Government’s Office of Local Government (OLG) has made changes under the cover of its “modification of statutory requirements in response to the COVID-19 pandemic” and permanently amended the regulation that compelled councils to advertise notices in print media – councils can instead choose to advertise on their websites.

Shooters Fishers and Farmers Party leader Robert Borsak took aim at the Nationals, which he said in a media release, had “announced the state government was removing the long-standing requirement”.

“This was an astonishing decision, to kick regional journalism while it’s on its knees,” he said.

“So what does the NSW Government do? They cut back [newspapers’] last reliable source of advertising revenue.

“Last week, we had Nationals MP Wes Fang crying crocodile tears over the decline of newspapers. But now, his government lands the final blow.

“What’s worse, his impotent party leader and Deputy Premier Barilaro stood by and allowed it to happen.

“We all know many of these regional papers have been a thorn in his backside and his governments, having exposed many of [the Nationals] shortcomings and lies over many years now.”

Jonathon Howard, editor and owner of the Tweed Valley Weekly, emailed his fellow owner/editors across the state, suggesting what they should say to the politicians.

“I would like to voice the strongest opposition and concern with this move, as a major hindrance to the future viability of small local media and in particular small publishers,” he wrote, in part.

“Why are small businesses, such as mine, being targeted in this way and during a major national crisis?

“Please note this will also cut out a large portion of residents who do not have access to the internet or do not browse the council websites in search of notices of this nature.”

Mr Howard told the Independent: “As an owner of an independent newspaper valued by the community, we see this as anti small business.

“The government fails to see that we provide a vital link forcouncils – not all people are browsing the internet.

“Printednewspapers are pillars of democracy – if we erode those pillars it’ll be more like the Wild West.”

Clarence MP Chris Gulaptis said that the Nationals held a party meeting last week and that the party “is aware that the changes [will] impact on independent newspapers”.

He said Mr Barilaro’s “position is that it is a matter for local governments to supply some support measures through the COVID crisis” and that the$395 million economic stimulus package announced by NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet “should give councils some ability to provide some support measures for their respective communities”.

Mr Gulaptis, however, said: “I’d like to think the Clarence Valley Council (CVC) will continue advertising in the local paperbecause it is widely distributedthroughout our community.”

However, the Independent is not that newspaper, due to a 90 per cent reduction in advertising revenue.

A CVC spokesperson has advised that the money it had been spending on advertising in the Independent “is no longer available” due to the paper not publishing a printed edition.

In general terms, Mr Gulaptis said that different states had or were implementing differing “packages for all sorts of different businesses”.

“We’ll do better in some sectors and they’ll do better inothers …[but in NSW] it’s really up to councils to look at making acontribution as well.”

Read the previous story: