Media reform essential to save regional TV, local news

Reports of a so-called “media shake-up” in the recent federal budget have a tendency to set politicians’ hair on fire. Many assume that “shake-up” is code for consolidation and contraction, and that it will kill the diversity of media voices and result in more jobs losses in an already challenged sector.

Diversity of opinion: Vanessa O'Hanlon presents Nine News Central West for Southern Cross Austereo.

Diversity of opinion: Vanessa O'Hanlon presents Nine News Central West for Southern Cross Austereo.

The bottom line is that a shake-up is well overdue and the Turnbull Government must be applauded for pulling together a package of reforms that has the unprecedented support of the entire media industry. The government understands Australian media companies are fighting hard to support local jobs, preserve local voices and maintain a local presence, but they are operating with one hand tied behind their back. Global players like Google, Facebook, YouTube and Netflix have landed on our doorstep and taken up residence in your lounge rooms.

In the pre-internet era, rules like the two-out-of-three rule – which stops one proprietor from owning TV, radio and newspapers in the same market – ensured a diversity of voices and opinions. But now, there is more choice in the community than ever before.

Regional voices at risk: Prime's local newsreaders for NSW, Madelaine Collignon and Kenny Heatley.

Regional voices at risk: Prime's local newsreaders for NSW, Madelaine Collignon and Kenny Heatley.

With the profusion of global media, the future of a diverse range of uniquely Australian voices depends on sustaining the commercial viability of traditional media companies. If they flounder, with them will go professional standards, the range and volume of investigative journalism, analysis, commentary, local drama production, local news and coverage of issues and events affecting Australians.

The internet has brought with it a swathe of diverse websites and delivery platforms where an overabundance of content and news services can be consumed from anywhere in the world at any time. Traditional media companies are trying to compete with these foreign offerings – for your eyeballs and for advertising dollars that sustain our businesses and pay our staff. It’s not easy and it’s probably unsustainable without a much overdue media shake-up.

Politicians need to understand the immutable fact that we are competing in a global environment. With so much competition there is simply not enough room for everyone at the local table.

Battling Netflix: WIN News Albury presenters Bruce Roberts and Amy Duggan

Battling Netflix: WIN News Albury presenters Bruce Roberts and Amy Duggan

With each company that fails, the community loses another uniquely Australian perspective, only to be replaced with generic “click bait” news. This will destroy the values and currency of good journalism.

Belt tightening by all media companies – particularly regional media – over the past five years has already had an impact on diversity, eroding regional and rural Australia’s share of a voice. It also deprives regional Australians of employment opportunities, reduces access to local news services and limits the options available to regional businesses to advertise goods and services.

The media reform package also includes provisions to strengthen local TV news services. Failure to support the package would send a message that regional TV news and media companies are not worth protecting. Our fiercely competitive industry knows we are at the tipping point. That’s why companies have united to endorse the reform package and are converging on Canberra to show support. The folks in Canberra talk a lot about investing in Australia, defending jobs, preserving businesses and capitalising on growth opportunities. The media reform package will deliver all those things.

My message to Canberra is this: it’s time you had our back. Australian stories, Australian news and Australian jobs are worth saving.

Ian Audsley is chief executive and executive director of Prime Media Group.

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