BIPARTISAN support to help regional newspapers pay the soaring cost of newsprint is welcome news for the communities we serve.
From July 1, Newcastle Herald publisher Australian Community Media (ACM) is facing an 80 per cent increase in the cost of newsprint from July, threatening the existence of hundreds of mastheads.
Fortunately, support has come from both sides of politics.
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As Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce said on the subject: "You mightn't like them (local papers) all the time but they're vitally important for getting the stories out".
Mr Joyce, Communications Minister Paul Fletcher, Labor leader Anthony Albanese and opposition communications spokesperson Michelle Rowland acknowledge the crucial role played by regional papers.
Mr Fletcher has committed $10 million to a second round of Public Interest News Gathering payments to help publishers meet the escalating newsprint costs.
Another $2 million will go towards replacing a coal-fired boiler at Norske Skog's Tasmanian paper mill, which is Australia's last remaining newsprint production facility.
The ALP says it will honour this commitment if it wins the election on May 21.
ACM executive chairman Antony Catalano spoke for readers and the company in when he welcomed the government support.
But as ACM managing director Tony Kendall has pointed out, the sector still faces existential challenges.
"This is an important first step towards also having the recommendations of the parliamentary inquiry into regional newspapers adopted later this year," Mr Kendall said.
The industry is seeking tax concessions for newsprint purchases, tax rebates for local businesses advertising in their community, and an agreed minimum spending level by the federal government on regional print advertising.
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These reforms are not a complete answer but they would do much to place the regional print media on a more sustainable financial footing.
Regional newspapers - in many parts of the country the only locally based media servicing significant populations - are not seeking annual government handouts to stay afloat.
What the sector does need is sensible structural reforms to remain viable and competitive and thus able to serve its communities right across regional Australia.
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