Why News is being forced to suspend community papers
News Corp Australasia executive chairman Michael Miller has slammed Facebook for putting local journalists' jobs at risk. Today, Mr Miller announced the suspension of a raft of community newspaper print editions. This decision does not impact your local regional paper.
Today is a sad day for Australian media.
Every newspaper company's paramount mission is to get the paper out. Next week, 60 of News Corp Australia's papers won't be printed.
Our decision to suspend print editions of community newspapers in four capital cities to assess their viability comes as other publishers also close editions and accelerate cost reduction.
Our regional community mastheads are not suspending print editions as part of this announcement.
Covid-19 did not create this crisis but it brought it to a head.
The decision we have made is pragmatic but it is made with a heavy heart as we are committed to local journalism.
These print editions have no cover price and have been decimated by the sudden collapse of retail, real estate, clubs, restaurant and event advertising.
For years, we have been managing these structural trends to transform our business from purely print to print and digital.
But digital media is not a level playing field: we are forced to fight digitally with one hand behind our back and this is the fundamental issue that must be addressed.
Australian media is passing its tipping point.
The tragedy is that for more than a decade, broadcasters, filmmakers, publishers and local content creators have been warning successive governments this day was coming.
But time and again, governments have chosen political self-interest over the right of Australian communities to have their voice.
When confronted with issues threatening the future of our industry, governments have acted either too slowly or not at all.
The unfairness of the digital playing field, along with Australia's draconian tangle of legislation and regulation means local companies can't compete with international platforms.
These platforms, unlike us, have no commitment to local communities.
They employ no journalists, create no content, face almost no regulation, and pay (virtually) no tax while they make unheard of profits by taking other people's content.
The ACCC handed the government a world-leading report last year that recommended a way forward. But the recommended timeline for change in 2019 looks dangerously slow now.
This must be the year the platforms pay for what they take.
But there is little cause for optimism because governments have been kicking obvious and important decisions down the road for years.
Why didn't governments continue to reform outdated media ownership laws and give regional publishers, radio and broadcasters a fighting chance?
Why has government after government chosen to enable the piracy and profiteering of the platforms, leaving Australian communities worse off.
Why, for example, are Australian broadcasters still forced to spend millions of dollars creating children's content that Australian children don't watch?
Children's viewing habits have been utterly transformed by the internet and streaming services yet local companies are still handicapped with this expensive, outdated obligation.
The sad day we face today may well have been avoided if some obvious and progressive decisions had been made.
But now we are on the brink and the future of an industry that provides a great public service crucial for democracy rests with the Government and its willingness to finally act.
In Australia and internationally, long-established media companies have proved they can move online; they have innovated; created new products and embraced new forms of delivery as audiences and advertisers moved online.
A heartbreaking irony of the Covid-19 crisis is the demand for trusted local news has never been greater: their audience numbers are exploding as people turn to trusted local news.
But that audience - the biggest in our history - is consuming vast amounts of our content on an internet privatised by tech giants who have created an unfair, toxic trading environment.
To have a fighting chance Australian news and creative content creators need these immediate changes:
• The Australian government must force digital platforms to pay for the content they profit from. We have no confidence a voluntary code of conduct will address their imbalance in bargaining power. The government should be ready to institute a mandatory code.
• Authorisation liability in Australian Copyright law must be clarified to make it crystal clear that the platforms cannot use other people's content without their permission.
• The Australian Government must urge the US Government to change laws that exempt the platforms from making their online spaces safe. The international effort to change the way the platforms operate must step up and by making them change their behaviour in their home country will mean the internet will be a safer place for communities around the world.
• Google's dominance of the opaque digital ad tech market must be confronted. Google's unfair monopoly of the digital advertising industry must be broken up.
• Press freedom which is protected in other countries must be strengthened in Australia. Journalists cannot properly serve their communities if they face jail for doing their jobs.
• Outdated media ownership rules must be abandoned.
Successive governments have stood by and watched as the traditional business models of Australian media companies have collapsed, and the real danger is they stand by and watch as our future collapse as well.
All sectors of Australian's media and creative industries are committed to local content, local stories and local voices and we all know this is what Australians want and deserve.
The time to keep faith with the Australian community is now.
News Corp Australasia is the parent company of this publication.