‘Well done for the Morrison government in giving a $5 million grant to the Australian Associated Press (AAP), but what about the ABC?’ – such was the refrain from Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young on Friday, after federal communications minister Paul Fletcher announced a cash injection for the national newswire.
The AAP, whose future was secured only in June after an eleventh-hour philanthropic move to keep it out of the clutches of mainstream media organisations News Corp and Nine/Fairfax, is now the latest of 93 recipients of government grants that Fletcher’s office has awarded under its Public Interest News Gathering (PING) program since it was announced last May, and would be receiving the funding within the next few weeks, Fletcher said.
However, while Hanson-Young – who holds the portfolio of communications for the Greens – congratulated the AAP for receiving the grant as advocating for the newswire’s support earlier in the week, she also put a degree of focus on restoring funding for public broadcasters ABC and SBS.
“Earlier this week, I called on the Government to ensure the survival of [the] AAP as they consider options for protecting public interest journalism through the ACCC News Media Code. I am glad that after months of uncertainty, the Government has finally come to the table with the support [the] AAP needs,” Hanson-Young said.
Hanson-Young, the Greens’ senator from South Australia who has served her constituents in federal Parliament since 2008, wants to see at least a portion restored of the $783 million in cuts which has occurred under consecutive LNP governments since 2014.
We will fight any more moves from this Government to cut ABC funding in next months Budget.
Enough is enough. https://t.co/TZwXgK1q0b
— 💚🌏 Sarah Hanson-Young (@sarahinthesen8) September 17, 2020
In fact, projections have the current government’s cuts to the ABC could balloon out to as much as $1 billion by the time of the next federal election takes place in 2022 if no action is taken, action which Hanson-Young is pushing for.
“Another essential component of the Australian news industry is the ABC. To protect public interest journalism in Australia, I call on the Government to stop their relentless attacks on our national broadcaster and include the ABC and SBS in the upcoming legislation for the ACCC News Media Code,” said Hanson-Young.
And while the reading of the federal budget that takes place in a few weeks’ time could have an impact on potential further cuts to the ABC and SBS, Fletcher defended the grant to the AAP as an element within enhancing public interest journalism under the PING program.
“Public interest journalism is important now, more than ever. This $5 million in funding will allow [the] AAP to continue delivering its important news service for communities Australia-wide,” Fletcher said.
“It will also provide the Newswire more opportunities to secure additional private investment to support its long-term sustainability,” he added.
But Hanson-Young would prefer to see the government maintain such actions of support, rather than executing a one-off funding for the AAP newswire, in addition to considering restoring funding to the nation’s public broadcasters.
“While today’s announcement has secured AAP’s short-term future and will assist [the] AAP’s transition to its new not-for-profit model, the newswire service may require the further government support in the future,” said Hanson-Young.
“I urge the Government to consider recurrent funding to ensure the viability of the AAP so it can continue to play an essential role in ensuring that Australia has a strong and diverse public interest journalism industry,” she added.
Moreover, Labor’s shadow communications minister Michelle Rowland also assailed Fletcher’s inaction to give financial support to the AAP, given that the newswire had originally announced its winding-up plans in March.
“Federal funding to support [the] AAP is a no-brainer and should have been done months ago. Why has it taken this [government] months to support this vital news service? Why is it so hard for this [government] to do the right thing at the right time?” Rowland tweeted on Friday afternoon.
However, Fletcher and Hanson-Young do agree that any financial aid to the AAP allows them to focus on providing news and information to local and regional communities.
“Importantly, [the] AAP also provides regional stories for national distribution so that regional issues and voices are heard across the country,” said Fletcher.
“The current pandemic has shown us how important it is to have local and regional news. AAP is an essential part of making sure that all Australian communities have access to local news,” said Hanson-Young.
Hanson-Young also said that the AAP newswire possesses a great value to all forms of media, and not just local and regional newspapers and the mastheads which Fletcher singles out.
“[The] AAP is key media infrastructure that helps new players into the market and diversity across Australia’s media landscape. Allowing [the] AAP to collapse would entrench the power of big media companies, NewsCorp and Nine and lock out smaller and new players in the industry,” she said.
Also by William Olson:
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