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Save our Voices or Save our Profits? Big Media delivery of Local news under threat

Monday October 12th saw the launch of the Save our Voices campaign being run by ACM (the owner of the Bay Post, Narooma News and the now shut down Moruya Examiner newspapers) and broadcasters Prime Media Group, WIN Network and Southern Cross Austereo Regional. These four major regional media organisations are telling the community, via their on-air campaign presented by Ray Martin, that "Australia has a diverse range of local media outlets across television, radio and print. Many have been serving their communities for decades. Some newspapers have been published continuously for more than a century.

"But they may not survive.

The campaign website set up to encourage further community support states that "The trusted local media voices that readers and listeners know and love — the outlets that are part of the very fabric of regional Australia — are at breaking point. "They are battling under archaic regulations that restrict ownership and are well past their use-by date. If our industry is to make it through this crisis, these regulations must be overhauled. "We are proud of the many trusted local media voices that connect communities and inform them of local events and issues, but newspapers and local TV newsrooms are slowly fading and switching off across the country. Our society, and our democracy, is the poorer for it.

"We believe regional Australians deserve better, but unless the federal government acts quickly, a sustainable independent local media presence looks increasingly unlikely.

The four major players say on their website "Local media plays a critical role in fostering community initiatives, including support for various clubs, services and charities.

"We provide publicity and free advertising to community endeavours large and small, even in the most remote regional communities.

"We know how important this support is because we live and work in these communities too.

Australia’s regional media companies donate more than $40 million in free advertising support every year to the communities they serve. But it doesn’t end there. Your local media brings its business relationships, on-air personalities, production, technical resources and people together to give a voice to the local community.

"Our services, whether they are on-air or in print, help to bring communities together.

Without local media, all this would be lost." Anthony Catalano, owner of the Bay Post and Narooma News said on Save our Voices that "it is incumbent on those communities, if they want their papers to stay, to support them." In the case of ACM and specifically in regards to our local papers it appears that they are taking no responsibility for the loss of the Moruya Examiner nor the demise of what were once two solid mastheads in the Bay Post and Narooma News. It is clear that readership and advertising has dropped off to both publications due to less local content being reported that has resulted in thinner pages. With a reduction in demand and with the availability of their own websites providing a new delivery option the financial demise of regional papers such a these may well have been in process long before the outcomes of Facebook and Google filling a void created by the newspapers failing to deliver a viable model. Across Australia there are a multitude of independent newspapers now popping up, employing journalists, reporting on local events, Council meetings, and local news. These are the new frontier and their popularity is spreading, encouraging local towns such as Moruya who have lost their town paper, to create anew. Announcements this week of ABC and SBS TV delivery to the South East being in peril due to lack of funding to maintain towers brings home the reality that many now rely on the internet for their TV delivery of news and entertainment. Most new TVs are now Smart and able to be plugged straight into the internet. The bottom line on the issue of Federal intervention is that the big players are having their fiscal bottom lines hurt and they want government intervention. If there was intervention forthcoming the resultant should be recognisable in our local papers. Advertising of local businesses should return rather than national advertisers. Content should be local and not cloned regional stories delivered thinly as local news. We are incredibly fortunate in the South East to have ABC South East radio and 2EC delivering local news and views. We are also well served digitally by the Braidwood Bugle, ABC South East and The Beagle with others, such as About Regional, on the periphery. Each and all of these are successful and each has had to adapt to ensure they continue to deliver timely news to their community. Gone are the days of printed newspapers that carry last week's news. Hopefully the Save Our Voices campaign isn't just a campaign to Save Our Profits. The Federal Government has already handed out large sums to prop up the big end of media. Now it seems they want more. Officially announcing the launch of the “Save Our Voices” campaign the four companies said urgent regulatory change was needed to allow them to form alliances or merge so they could more effectively compete against the international and metropolitan media companies now operating in regional media markets via the NBN. In the South East there are NO metropolitan media companies operating in regional media markets via the NBN offering LOCAL news. As yet there has been no statement from ACM over the closure of the Moruya Examiner.

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