Deputy PM hints at rescue package and reform for regional media


He confirmed the government was looking at potential relief on spectrum and licence fees paid by the companies.

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“And of course they need to know that they are going to have a future. They need to know that out of the other end of COVID-19, that there is going to be a future,” he said.

Regional broadcasters Prime, WIN and Southern Cross are running out of cash and planning to stop producing news bulletins across Australia within weeks. They want the government to underwrite their businesses to help them survive the pandemic.

Some media executives had also been pushing for changes to media ownership laws to allow them to consolidate and stay competitive but Communications Minister Paul Fletcher had cooled talk of further relaxations.

Mr McCormack said on Tuesday that “some of the laws that were set for regional networks have been in place for a long, long time”.

“They were appropriate for when they were set but the game has changed, the media landscape has changed,” he said.

He said there were more companies battling for a share of advertising revenue today and “the pie is only so big”.

“We want regional journalism. We need regional journalism: local journalists talking about local issues and addressing them for local people.”

Changes proposed by executives could loosen laws to allow broadcasters in regional markets to merge or for consolidation between television, radio and print businesses. They argue the mergers might be needed to achieve scale and survive the digital era that has eroded their revenue.

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Any changes would build on legislation passed in 2017, which has allowed for consolidation of companies across audiences and platforms.

Mr McCormack said the government was still discussing COVID-19 crisis relief options for the sector and an announcement could “possibly” be made next week.

The government has already fast-tracked $5 million in grant funding to assist small and regional publishers. Many will also be eligible for the JobKeeper wage subsidy.

Dozens of regional and community newspapers have suspended printing in recent weeks because of the blow to advertising revenue.

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