Opening statement to Senate inquiry on the News Media Bargaining Code
On February 1, 2021, MEAA Media Director Adam Portelli appeared before the Senate, Economics Legislation Committee inquiry into the Treasury Laws Amendment (News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code) Bill 2020. This is his opening statement:
Australia starts a new decade with between 4000 and 5000 fewer journalists than we began the last.
Over that time hundreds of outlets have closed or dramatically shrunk in scale. Many of the remaining regional mastheads exist in name only.
At a time of rampant misinformation and disinformation, the public interest in supporting a robust and diverse media industry is greater than ever.
That is why MEAA supports the implementation of a mandatory news media bargaining code as one element of a policy solution for this urgent problem. We strongly support a system to recoup some revenue from digital platforms operating in Australia as a contribution towards the production costs of the journalistic material they carry.
However, as you would see from our submission, we do have some concerns about the code as it is currently drafted.
Most importantly we say it is critical that the code mandates any revenue received by media organisations must be spent on the production of journalistic content. In the absence of that requirement, there is an evident risk that companies could use funds for other purposes.
Having gone through the effort to get here, the beneficiaries of the code must be journalism and the citizens who rely on it, not shareholders and senior executives.
We submit that this is a simple but critical amendment which must be made.
We also remain concerned that the annual revenue test for access to the benefits of the code may be unnecessarily restrictive. Rather than $150,000, we submit that annual revenue of $75,000 would be more appropriate and ensure access to the code is as broad as possible.
As has been illustrated in a string of recent inquiries, it is regional and local news that has been hit hardest by the decline in the media industry. This is not a situation unique to Australia, and the consequences of these emerging “news deserts” are grave for communities and for democracy.
Studies in the UK and the US have shown a decline in community engagement with local institutions and a breakdown in community harmony in the absence of reliable accurate local news.
MEAA originally submitted that a portion of any funds generated through the bargaining code should be directed to enhancing regional and local news coverage. In the absence of that additional government support will be vital.
The Public Interest News Gathering fund should be extended, at least in line with the initial recommendations of the ACCC.
The Government should also reconsider the recommendations from the Senate’s earlier inquiry into Public Interest Journalism. In particular tax relief and investment incentives for media organisations.