Local News

Legislative Assembly Hansard – 29 July 2020

Member for Clarence Chris Gulaptis made his speech on July 29 to the NSW Legislative Assembly demanding the Government take action on three different fronts to support the CV Independent and other regional independent newspapers.

A spokesman for Mr Gulaptis said “Chris is of course a member of the Government and it is highly unusual for a government backbencher to stand up in the House and criticise and demand changes to Government policy. It is a measure of how strongly he feels about the issue and how much he wants to help you and the other independent papers in the region”.



Mr CHRISTOPHER GULAPTIS (Clarence) (15:08:09): 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 following much-loved mastheads in the region that I represent:The Daily Examiner,The Northern Star, the Richmond River Express Examiner and Coastal Views. 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.

That was just the beginning. In the Richmond Valley there were two new players. Locals formed a community association with the aim of publishing the Richmond River Independent, a free weekly newspaper covering the Kyogle and Richmond Valley local government areas. They raised startup capital through crowdfunding and they have been delivering an excellent read to locals every week since launching in Kyogle on 8 July. There are too many people to mention but I single out Richmond River Independent Community Association president Bob Mills, editor Susanna Freymark and sales manager Katie Gourlay.

In Casino on the same day, local private company Heartland Media celebrated the first edition of The Northern Rivers Times, which is another free weekly paper but with a wider coverage area featuring stories from Grafton to the Queensland border. Founded by Sharon Bateman and Jeff Gibbs, Heartland Media has been publishing the much-admired monthly Heartland Magazine since January 2017. Like all great small business startups,The Northern Rivers Times is the result of Sharon and Jeff risking their own capital to deliver a product that the community needs. They have done so much with no help from government. 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.

Firstly, 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. In the past, independent 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. Also it was much easier for the bureaucrats organising the advertisements to execute statewide advertising buys with the big players rather than to deal individually with independent publications. That needs to change. The Government needs to establish a register of regional independent newspapers and begin to negotiate ad buys as soon as possible. Secondly, the Government must reverse its decision announced on 17 April 2020, which was to:

Remove the requirement for council notices to be advertised in newspapers and instead allow the relevant notice 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. 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. Distilleries made the cut; newspapers did not. 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. The good people involved with the Clarence Valley Independent, the Richmond River Independent and The Northern Rivers Times are giving their blood, sweat, tears and dollars to provide a vital service to residents of regional New South Wales. 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 GEOFF PROVEST (Tweed) (15:13:31): I speak in support of my colleague. In my electorate we also heavily depend on local newspapers, including The Northern Star from the electorate of Clarence. In the Tweed we lost our daily news after 140 years. I think what News Corp has done is hurting regional New South Wales. It is putting money before people—we have lost journalists, jobs and so on. There is a real void. Luckily, we have the Tweed Valley Weekly, a free paper from Jonathon and his great crew, which is filling that void. There has been a small comeback with The Daily Telegraph now publishing a local edition. That means there is one page about the Tweed printed in the Telegraph and there is another page about Coffs Harbour and so on. But I have seen this before with News Corp—that will last about another two months and then it will go. It is all about standing up for our regions. I applaud the member for Clarence.


Gulaptis urges NSW government support of regional press: 



CVC’s GM responds to Gulaptis’s speech by Geoff Helisma: