04 Aug Not-for-profit journalism push could help Australian media changes over the line
Amy Remeikis Lucy Battersby — The Age — 4 August, 2017
The creation of a new category of not-for-profit journalism in Australia could be enough to convince crossbenchers to pass the government’s changes to media laws.
The idea of giving public interest journalism the same tax deductions as think tanks and educational organisations is already supported within some corners of the Liberal Party as well as by Senator Nick Xenophon, who is in favour of tax incentives encouraging local and independent news.
In the US, similar policies have sprouted publications such as ProPublica, The Nation, Mother Jones, and Foreign Affairs.
Liberal senator James Paterson, who is part of a committee examining public interest journalism in Australia, said there was “some merit” in Mr Xenophon’s proposal to change the tax laws that apply to media companies, which he said could create a not-for-profit journalism model in Australia.
“If additional measures are necessary to complement the package, tax-deductibility for non-profits or tax rebates for companies who invest in journalism are worth considering,” he said.
“Tax-deductibility for journalism would harness philanthropic support to facilitate the entry of new players into the media market. Tax rebates would reward for-profit players who invest in journalism.”
The government is understood to be willing to amend laws to get its changes through, given it has spent almost a year-and-a-half languishing in the Senate, with both Labor and the Greens ruling out supporting the scrapping of the two-out-of-three rule, a key measure of the government’s package.
The rule, which stops a media company from owning a newspaper, TV station and radio station in the same market, is seen as impeding the media industry’s survival in Australia, as it seeks to compete with new players such as Facebook and Google.
Labor and the Greens believe removing the rule could spell the end of media diversity in an already concentrated market.
Mr Xenophon has spent the winter parliamentary break attempting to broker a compromise and believes safeguarding regional media – a key concern of the One Nation party – and media diversity is key to getting the changes across the line.
“We are talking about incentives, not mandating numbers,” he said.
“Having tax incentives to employ journalists and other than tax incentives, you also need to ensure some greater safeguards for regional media, for regional content, so in some respects you do try and ensure local content for the regions is assured, through a number of mechanisms in addition to tax incentives, in terms of financial incentives.
“You do need to safeguard regional media.”
Protections to local content screened in regional areas remain part of the government’s agenda, with an increase from the amount of local content screened in regional areas increasing from 720 minutes every six weeks to 900 minutes (about 21 minutes a day).
The changes give a higher weighting to locally filmed news, making it a more attractive proposition.
A survey by the media regulator earlier this year found 86 per cent of people living in regional Australia consider local news important, and 87 per cent are satisfied with the overall quality of local news available in their local area.
“Traditional media sources (particularly TV and print) are the principal way that regional Australians access local content and local news, despite an overall decline in free-to-air audience ratings and print newspaper circulation, and the closure of several local newspapers and TV news services,” the Australian Communications and Media Authority stated.
Meanwhile, chief executive of Southern Cross Austereo Grant Blackley said regional broadcasting “is already heavily regulated by dictating the minutes of content that must be broadcast in each market”.
“The answer to encouraging more local regional news is not imposing more regulation but reform of the media ownership rules to give media companies the ability to gain scale to employ more people and make more local content,” he told Fairfax Media.
“Larger media companies are able to make more local content.”
In November Southern Cross and Nine announced plans to create local bulletins in 15 new areas, which included hiring 80 new journalists.
This article originally appeared in The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.