Motion - Regional Media

Wednesday June 23, 2021

Mr BELL (Mount Gambier) (11:30): I move:

That this house—

(a) recognises the importance of independent media platforms as both the voice for regional communities and a trusted information source;

(b) provides financial assistance to help support both new and established platforms to continue to serve their communities;

(c) recognises that print is a vital information source for regional people; and

(d) commits to an annual spend for communication in regional communities.

The importance of print media to regional areas cannot be underestimated. For regional communities, they are a source of information, a journal of record, a regular publication where you find accurate and balanced news in the public interest. For many people, it is the only place where you find out government news and how it will affect you and your family.

There has recently been a push to modernise the advertising of government news and public notices online and reduce the commitment to advertising in regional print publications. The simplify bill was just one example of this. It was a bill that was introduced by this Liberal government. I spoke extensively against that bill, but it was passed. Now we see another bill introduced, the Statutes Amendment (Local Government Review) Bill, which seeks to do exactly the same as the simplify bill.

For example, in four amendments, the requirement for the notice or alteration in a newspaper has been removed and substituted with the council merely giving public notice. If we are serious about this, not many people are visiting local council websites on a regular basis, keeping up to date with all of the notices in their local area, yet most in the regions will buy or read a local newspaper where that information is presented.

Regional print remains strong. The readership of The SE Voice, one of our papers, is 18,000 people, and 15,500 copies of Lifestyle1 are distributed across Limestone Coast and south-west Victoria each week. Of course, we have The Border Watch, which is a paper that has been going strong for over 160 years. These are vital places where our community remains informed and up to date, particularly with government notices and information.

It is also true that regional papers depend on advertising. When I am sitting down talking to my local papers, they clearly indicate to me that the cost of purchasing a paper barely covers, if it indeed does cover, the print cost and distribution. Advertising is a very important part of a newspaper's viability. Viability is an easy word, but what we are talking about here are jobs—jobs in regional areas that contribute not only directly to the printing of the paper but of course to the distribution and every other aspect that goes along with it.

At the beginning of the pandemic, the Victorian government—sometimes I think I live in a parallel universe—committed to a minimum advertising spend in regional papers. I believe this spend was $4.7 million, and it gave certainty to those papers and also helped contribute to the jobs that underpin the industry. Most importantly, it was getting the government's message about the COVID-19 pandemic and the steps the government was taking out to the readership. This continued for a further six months beyond the initial term and they have now, just recently, committed to a half page per week for a further 12 months.

That is a Victorian Labor government supporting regional papers with a guaranteed commitment to underpin the viability of that industry. This action demonstrates a proactive relationship between the Victorian government communications team and their regional media outlets. It also demonstrates a commitment to regional people, and an understanding of how print continues to be a vital source of information for regional audiences.

However, it seems that our state government's relationship with regional papers, as expressed to me by some in the media, is one-sided. What I mean by that is that media releases are pushed out by government ministers—quite rightly so—and these papers give serious consideration and almost always print and give prominent space to the message being distributed to regional audiences.

When a minister or senior politician comes down to regional areas, regional media show up, take photographs and attend press conferences, all of this without paid advertising going along with it—not that they are complaining about that service. It is a longstanding expectation and agreement between both sides because it is newsworthy. However, what I am calling for is a commitment to an annual spend for communication in regional communities to help underpin this very important industry.

Like any other industry impacted by the pandemic, regional print deserves economic support measures to ensure its longevity. A regional newspaper supports far more than just journalists and sales staff. It has a trickle-down effect to delivery drivers, stockists, fuel companies, newsagents and many, many more. Combined, Lifestyle1, The Border Watch and The SE Voice support around 25 full-time jobs and many more part-time and casual roles.

It is in the best interests of the state government, no matter of which persuasion, to ensure the survival of print media or we will lose a valuable information service for our regional people. People consume information in very different ways, and any government's communication plan should always include a variety of platforms, including online, radio, print and social, to reach these audiences.

As has been said in recent legislation and in legislation coming up, there are moves to push the publishing of public notices online, to skip the requirement to publish in newspapers entirely. This is often referred to as 'modernising community consultation', and giving governments and councils more flexibility in the way they communicate with the community.

In regional South Australia, print continues to be a vital source of information. The last year has been a perfect example of why traditional media is incredibly important to provide accurate and balanced reporting on issues in the public interest. Misinformation is rife on social media platforms, which do not fact-check and allow public commentary. Unbelievably, a politician's Facebook page is not where most of Mount Gambier finds out government news that affects them.

This government proudly displays the motto Regions Matter. The communication budget is already there, and I am asking this state government to commit to an advertising spend in regional areas so that our regional papers can plan, with some degree of certainty, a future budget that includes their full-time equivalents, and it would give some certainty and some support to a vital industry in our regions.

Mr BELL (Mount Gambier) (12:39): I will keep the conclusion very short because the member for Cheltenham has the next motion, and a very important motion at that. Thank you to all the speakers from both parties in this house and, of course, the Independents. I think this will pass, and I am encouraged by the commitment to an annual spend for communication in regional communities—a good step forward if it does pass.

It is remiss of me not to talk about Country Press SA as an industry body. Their awards nights are always well attended. They do a great job for the cohesion and promotion of country newspapers, and it does sadden me that the committees that I am on have had to fight to make sure that advertising in regional papers is part of the course of business. It is a reflection that some people perhaps only think of one newspaper, but in fact we have many newspapers in our regions that contribute greatly to the fabric of South Australia. With those few words, I commend the motion to the house.

Motion carried.