Local and Independent News Association (LINA) Inaugural Summit
Let me begin by acknowledging the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation and I pay my respects to Elders past and present and to any First Nations people joining today.
I would also like to acknowledge the important voice of First Nations’ media outlets around Australia: Your media matters.
As the Minister for Communications I am committed to addressing the shortcomings in the provision and maintenance of broadcast, mobile and internet connectivity that holds First Nations communities back.
I am determined to break through the policy paralysis, short-termism and indecision that has beset the remote Indigenous media sector in particular, after a decade of neglect under the previous government.
It is of deep concern and wholly unacceptable that there are Indigenous communities without adequate access to free-to-air television.
With my Department, I am working on pathways forward, and I have convened the First Nations Digital Inclusion Advisory Group, as well as included remote broadcasting and satellite delivered television as a work stream under the Future of Broadcasting Working Group as well.
I say all this because in this year of the Voice, I'm proud that my Government is committed to implementing the Uluru Statement from the Heart, in full.
Thank you very much, Leigh and Kamin, for your introduction and to LINA for inviting me to speak to you today at your inaugural summit.
I pay my respects to the hard work of such people as Alan Sunderland, Claire Stuchbery and John Bisset in the setting up of LINA, and I just want to say how much I appreciate your professionalism and your engagement with me as Minister in my first year.
I also thank your members, many of whom are here for providing vital new services.
From Cygnet in Tasmania, to Yanchep in Western Australia. From Naracoorte in South Australia to Tennant Creek in the Northern Territory – these communities are among the hundreds that are served by hyperlocal news outlets like yours.
Created by locals for locals, your coverage connects people around the issues that interest, and impact, them.
You promote participation, improve local governance, and fill gaps in local news coverage.
To this end, I want to acknowledge the important work LINA does to support and boost independent local news.
LINA is one, relatively recent, example of a mechanism to help sustain the news media ecosystem in Australia – the ecosystem we each seek to foster in a range of ways.
Which is why I am here today: To update you on what the Albanese Government is doing to support the news media sector, including with the development of the News Media Assistance Program – or News MAP.
But before I do that, I would like to reflect on the role of Government in the changing media landscape.
Smart phones, hyper-connectivity and social media have transformed the way news media is made, distributed and consumed.
While our appetite for news and media content grows, digital disruption, declining revenues, the global pandemic and skills shortages have forced newsrooms around the country to contract and close.
Many more are at risk, particularly in regional, rural and remote areas.
Meanwhile, innovation in digital formats continues to evolve.
It is clear that government has a role to play in supporting Australia’s democratic infrastructure, systems and processes, including with respect to the news media.
But, while safeguarding our democratic processes is essential, any intervention by government risks endangering the public interests that it seeks to protect and promote.
Consequently, government has historically sought to minimise this risk by limiting its interventions.
Government funding for the national broadcasters is balanced by statutory charters that guarantee the independence of the ABC and SBS, for example.
And, to date, significant Government support has been provided for news and journalism under a variety of guises, but this has largely been in response to external shocks.
There is also a role for government to consider transitional media policy, giving effect to media reform that straddles both new and traditional media, as our media markets continues to evolve.
While need to modernise Australia’s news media policy settings is well understood, it is prudent that we consider the role of government carefully when it comes to support for news and journalism.
One aspect that is worthy of consideration is the role of government in relation to commercial media, particularly where taxpayer funds are provided.
During the last term of Parliament, the Coalition Government announced the Regional and Small Publishers Innovation Fund, pursuant to an eleventh-hour crossbench deal to secure the passage through Parliament of changes to media law in 2017.
This fund was administered by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) but largely went unspent; the majority of funds never reaching the intended recipients, as a result of deficiencies in design.
This funding was eventually repackaged and re-announced in 2020 as the Public Interest News Gathering program – or PING – and was administered by the Minister of the day, in what essentially became a COVID relief payment.
Against this backdrop, a range of other measures that had been recommended to support the media sector went undelivered or unaddressed.
By the time of the federal election, last year, it was clear that there was the need for a much more coherent and considered approach to the implementation of measures, including application of direct funding, to support the news media sector.
Labor considers that government intervention to support public interest journalism should be done within a principles-based and evidence-informed framework, formulated and implemented with adherence to best practice.
That is why we committed to develop a News Media Assistance Program to secure the evidence base needed to inform news media policy interventions and formulate measures to support public interest journalism and media diversity.
It is also why I have delegated decision-making for grant administration for news publishers to my Department.
The Government is committed to systemic reform to modernise media regulations.
Since being sworn in as Communications Minister I have been clear about my commitment to support for public interest journalism and media diversity as well as regulatory harmonisation in relation to media reform.
And I have wasted no time getting this work underway.
The Government will develop, test and implement new regulatory arrangements that are fit for the digital age. This involves a number of work streams, with extensive opportunity for those interested to contribute to these processes.
I have initiated the development of measures to better connect, inform and empower Australians. In the immediate term, the focus is on three areas:
- The implementation of a legislative framework to support the prominence of local television services on smart TVs.
- The review of the anti-siphoning scheme and list and – pending the outcomes of the review – the implementation of any related reforms.
- The introduction of Australian content obligations for streaming services – in line with Revive – Australia’s new National Cultural Policy, announced by the Minister for the Arts.
Work on these immediate priorities is well underway and is being informed by a range of recently completed or current consultation processes
In the October 2022 Budget, the Government made further funding commitments to support the media sector, including:
- Better funding for the ABC and SBS with 5-year funding terms and $83.7 million to the ABC to reinstate funding cut by the previous Government.
- A $15 million lifeline for over 200 regional and local independent newspaper publishers across the country, including First Nations and multicultural publishers, under the Regional and Local Newspaper Publishers Program – for which the Department was the decision-maker.
- An additional $4 million per year of ongoing funding for the Community Broadcasting Program from 2023-24, taking annual funding for the program to over $20 million per year.
The funding for Community Broadcasting was complemented also by legislative amendments to provide greater regulatory clarity for the sector, as well as a review into the sustainability of the sector.
In addition, the Government maintained existing programs to support the media sector, including:
- A Journalist Fund to support the provision of public interest journalism in the regions.
- The extension of transitional support to relevant regional broadcasters for two additional years.
- The Television Research and Policy Development Program to provide the Government and industry with the information needed to make choices about the future of free-to-air television services in Australia.
The Journalist Fund is supporting regional news outlets to hire cadets.
And I’m pleased to say that the government’s delivery of this fund draws upon lessons learned from previous media grant programs.
Its implementation is being informed by a best-practice approach and an independent evaluation of two previous support programs: The Regional and Small Publishers Jobs and Innovation Package and the Public Interest News Gathering program.
Finalised in November last year, the evaluation by ACIL Allen found Government support for an industry that provides public goods, in this case public interest journalism, is sound.
Today I am pleased to announce the outcomes of the Journalist Fund.
Up to 56 new cadet journalists are hitting the beat in 38 regional newsrooms across the nation, after being awarded grants through the first round of the fund.
The funding is being provided in partnership with selected regional news organisations to employ new journalists under a co-contribution arrangement, with a 2-year package of up to $150,000 per cadet.
We are providing a more generous funding package per cadet and paying more to grantees earlier, so they are better set up to succeed.
Consultation is also key. We have engaged early and strategically with our stakeholders to ensure rigorous program design.
Again, I also delegated decision making to the Department, to enable it to assess applications, make decisions and deliver funding as soon as possible to affected newspapers.
As I mentioned in my opening, First Nations regional news outlets form a vital part of the Australian media landscape.
We have conducted consultations to ensure a targeted round of the Journalist Fund meets their needs.
We have allocated half a million dollars to fund five (5) First Nations cadetships in First Nations regional media organisations, and we are currently consulting with Indigenous Community Television, Koori Mail, National Indigenous Times and Torres News to implement these.
This commitment is in addition the 34 regional news outlets – across every state and territory – that we are funding to hire cadets. To date, 56 cadet journalists have been engaged.
These measures are part of our broad media reform agenda to support a strong, sustainable and diverse media sector.
This is vital for our democracy.
To get there, we need to better understand the state of public-interest news and journalism.
That is why, in parallel, we are developing a News Media Assistance Program, or ‘News MAP’. This is a program of work that will lay the foundations for principled, targeted and evidence-based intervention to support the news media sector.
With our focus on the News MAP, we will build the evidence base for measures to support public interest journalism and media diversity and, as appropriate, take steps to enhance the sustainability of our news media sector.
The News MAP will lay the foundations for a targeted, evidence-based framework for future policy and funding interventions in the new media sector.
In the October Budget, the Government announced $4 million to get initial work going on the News MAP.
We are wasting no time in putting this funding to work.
Last month, I announced $900,000 for the Public Interest Journalism Initiative to continue tracking the health of news services around Australia.
PIJI is an independent non-profit company that produces the Australian News Data Report which assesses media diversity and plurality. The Government’s one-off commitment of $900,000 will support PIJI in continuing to collect, analyse, visualise and maintain Australian public interest news and journalism data.
This grant is an important step toward securing the evidence base required to inform news media policy and will help maintain datasets and evidence on changes in the state of public interest journalism and news media production in Australia over time.
Today I am pleased to announce that the Albanese Government has set aside up to $1.5 million in funding under the News MAP for LINA as well. This will underpin your important work supporting digital, hyper-local and independent news publishers.
It is critically important that Australia’s media environment retains local, independent and diverse news services that ‘give a voice to the voiceless’ and represent the interests of otherwise underrepresented communities.
I have tasked my department to work with LINA and to assess their proposal under the Government’s News Media Assistance Program (News MAP) and ensure it will deliver value to taxpayers.
The opportunity to support the work of LINA is consistent with the Government’s pledge to support local news, community media and jobs and will inform work to develop a principles-based, evidence-informed and sustainable framework to support public interest journalism and media diversity in Australia.
Government's role in news and journalism is inherently complex, the News MAP framework will help navigate this complexity to inform effective policy.
It will achieve this in two phases: firstly, through a principles-based policy framework that builds on past reviews and inquiries and sets out clear principles and objectives for the role of Government.
Secondly, News MAP will develop a robust evidence-base to inform policy development in-line with the principles and objectives.
News MAP is a substantial undertaking, one that will be developed through a process that actively engages with stakeholders.
Good policy making is, after all, principled, evidence-based and consultative.
Colleagues from my Department will cover the process in more detail with you during this Summit. Including how and why you should get involved.
What I will share with you now are some of the core principles that we are designing News MAP framework around – starting with accessibility, because everyone should have access to quality news media.
The second principle is quality. Audiences expect public-interest journalism to be accurate and impartial.
The third principle is diversity. We need to foster a media landscape where local news can thrive and where a diversity of voices are heard.
The final principle is about enabling. Everyone needs the skills to critically engage with news and information. A key enabler is media literacy, which I spoke about last week at the Australian Media Literacy Summit.
Research shows that strong media literacy promotes meaningful participation, connection and mental wellbeing. Our Government is supporting a number of measures to promote media literacy, beginning at school.
More practically, the News MAP will provide a framework to guide the application of measures to support the news media sector.
There have been a number and range of measures recommended in the many and varied reviews and inquiries into public interest journalism and media diversity over recent years.
But implementation of a number of these measures has been poorly conceived, ad hoc or short term, and hasn’t always hit the mark.
What is needed is a framework to guide the implementation of measures supporting public interest news and journalism.
The News MAP won’t replace normal government decision-making processes, nor will it constrain the ability of government to act where necessary.
But it will bring structure and provide a tool to assist with implementation of practical measures on the ground, in a manner consistent with our democratic values.
Take direct funding, for example, which has been recommended as a measure to support news publishers.
The News MAP will help to guide decisions around when Government intervention is warranted, the purposes to which any support should be applied, and where it should be targeted, for example.
News MAP’s guiding principles are a starting point, but as I said, good policy making is principled, evidence-based and consultative.
This is why we are seeking feedback - from stakeholders like you - through a consultation process that will commence in the near future, and continue over the coming months.
I encourage LINA - and all interested parties - to have their say.
The way that we measure and regulate media diversity in Australia is based on outdated rules set out in the Broadcasting Services Act of 1992.
News consumption and the platforms through which news is delivered have evolved since then.
For example, we are seeing more community-led independent news services emerging to fill local news voids. This is a good news story.
We need a new framework to measure, quantify and better understand media diversity and localism in the digital era.
The Australian Communications and Media Authority has recently concluded a consultation process on a draft measurement framework, and I want to acknowledge LINA for engaging in this process.
The ACMA is considering the feedback with a view to providing me with advice on the final framework and its potential implementation later in 2023.
Importantly, the ACMA’s work will support the News Media Assistance Program by highlighting how we are tracking against News MAP’s core principles.
This morning, I have outlined a number of measures that our Government is undertaking to progress our media reform agenda.
And let me say, LINA and its members have an important role to play.
Run by locals, for locals, hyperlocal news informs, empowers and connects people and places.
Thank you for inviting me to be part of your Summit.
I look forward to many more, and working together to ensure that hyperlocal media thrives.