Australia’s regional news services will be the focus of a new Parliamentary inquiry into how local media outlets are faring in the digital age.
According to a survey, Australians living in regional communities are far more likely to seek information from their local news or newspaper websites than other readily available online sources such as search engines, social media sites, or local council websites.
The committee will look into how many new operators have entered the regional market and how the News Media Bargaining Code has affected local newspapers.
Nationals MP Anne Webster said that the federal government needed to understand the needs of regional communities and their reliance on local newspapers to stay connected.
“Local news is a vital component to an interconnected community, and a thriving democracy particularly in smaller markets, having a choice in where to access your news coverage is not always possible,” Dr Webster said.
As part of the inquiry, the committee will examine:
• The impact of decisions by large publishers to suspend publication of print editions
• Entry into these or other markets by new operators, particularly small businesses
• Impact of the News Media Bargaining Code for regional and remote newspapers
• The economic recovery in regional and remote markets from the impacts of COVID, and whether this has led to advertising revenue improving.
Due to advertising losses, many regional newsrooms suspended publication in 2020.
The announcement came just days after the government made some last-minute changes to the proposed bill, dubbed the News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code.
Furthermore, data collected by the ACCC show that between 2008 and 2018, 106 local and regional newspaper titles closed across Australia, representing a net 15 per cent decrease in the number of these publications.
These closures have left 21 local government areas previously covered by these titles without coverage from a single local newspaper, including 16 local government areas in regional Australia.
Previously, Australia passed laws requiring digital platforms like Facebook and Google to compensate local media outlets and publishers for links to their content in news feeds and search results.
The House Committee on Communications and the Arts will examine the impact of this decision on communities. The committee is seeking feedback through submissions due on January 28, 2022.