Mr Fletcher said the government understood media outlets’ concerns about press freedom and was considering the proposals but added there should also be a focus on securing business models.
“There are a number of issues in relation to a vigorous free press holding politicians and the powerful to account and scrutinising and reporting on what happens in our community, and one of those issues is the sustainability of media businesses,” he said.
“Because in practical terms if newspapers are going out of business and that local journalism in particular and that public interest journalism isn’t happening, a free press can’t do its job if it’s not there and if there aren’t media outlets and there aren’t journalists.”
Mr Fletcher is involved in the government’s deliberations on the ACCC’s findings. The watchdog proposed “harmonised” regulation of old and new media outlets, new rules governing commercial relationships, subsidies for local and regional journalism, incentives for philanthropy, and robust funding for the public broadcasters.
Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance official Marcus Strom said support for a sustainable media industry was “of course” important and expressed his hope the government would respond strongly to the ACCC proposals.
“But no matter how many media organisations there are, their effectiveness will be significantly impeded unless the government acts to change laws which seek to conceal information that is in the public interest and to criminalise its release,” he said.
Peter Greste, director of the Alliance for Journalists’ Freedom, welcomed the minister’s sentiments about the need to protect sustainable models for journalism, especially to prevent”news deserts” in regional areas.
However, Greste said the government also had a responsibility to change laws that were impinging on press freedom.
“He’s right that we need to be considering how we pay for public interest journalism but that doesn’t mean the government can avoid the responsibility of fixing the national security legislation that has been so damaging to press freedom over the past 10-15 years,” he said.
Fergus Hunter is an education and communications reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.