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‘Terribly unfair’: Silence on regional publishers and broadcaster fund

A spokesman for Communications Minister Paul Fletcher said the guidelines would be “released shortly”. He gave a similar timeframe a week ago.

Regional broadcaster Prime on Tuesday revealed advertising revenue had fallen by 38.1 per cent in April and outlined plans for executive pay cuts and financial assistance from the government. Sources said WIN Corp is in a similar financial situation.

“I understand there’s a process that needs to be followed and that the government has only so many resources, but the delay is terribly unfair on regional TV reporters, camera operators and news production staff who are concerned about their jobs,” Prime chief executive Ian Audsley said.

Mr Fletcher announced a range of relief measures designed to provide “urgent short-term support” for the media sector three weeks ago after dramatic falls in advertising spend caused companies to temporarily suspend print publication of news titles, cut salaries and stand down staff. But initiatives such as the waiving of spectrum tax fees and the creation of a $50 million Public Interest News Gathering (PING) program to support journalism have not provided the regional sector with the immediate relief it needs.

Mr Audsley told the ASX in a statement on Tuesday that Prime would no receive a “material benefit” from waiver of spectrum fees until January next year. WIN Corp won’t receive the relief until the new financial year, due to the government’s cut off date for the relief benefit.

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While spectrum fees won’t be waived immediately, the regional broadcasters had delayed plans to stop news bulletins and shut down broadcast signals until they find out whether they are eligible for part of the $50 million in funding.

Country Press Australia president, Bruce Ellen, who represents the interests of 140 independent regional and local publishers, is concerned the guidelines could allow the $50 million in funding to be given to large organisations. The package announced by the government included $13.4 million in new funding and the remainder of the Regional and Small Publishers Innovation Package.

“The Regional and Small Publishers Innovation Fund was established in 2018 specifically to counter the media reform laws that favoured the large public companies and help sustain diverse media in Australia,” Mr Ellen said. “The recent announcement to expand this fund to potentially allow large media companies to access this funding program does the complete reverse. It has become clear that regional and small publishers could be sacrificed to the more powerful voices…unless careful consideration is given to the funding framework.”

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