Australian media was “passing its tipping point” and risked “collapse” unless the Federal Government took urgent action to help keep the public informed, News Corp Australasia executive chairman Michael Miller has warned.
His strongly worded message came after News Corp was forced to suspend print editions of its community newspapers in New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and South Australia from next week due to economic impact from the coronavirus outbreak.
Additionally, Seven West Media is slashing staff salaries and has warned that job cuts are inevitable as the COVID-19 pandemic hits the advertising market.
Chief executive James Warburton told staff on Wednesday that full-time employees earning between $80,000-$200,000 per annum would need to work four-day weeks and take a 20 per cent pay cut until the end of the financial year.
The Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance said the cutback, which followed the closure of some regional newspapers over the past fortnight, was “another sign of the stresses on media proprietors” and underlined the need for immediate government assistance.
Changes to community newspapers will affect the publication of 60 titles during the coronavirus pandemic, with local news stories to be published digitally while the advertising industry recovers.
But Mr Miller said the economic impact of the COVID-19 outbreak would not have been as devastating if the Federal Government had delivered vital media reforms, including forcing multibillion-dollar tech giants to pay for the Australian news content they used.
“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,” he said. “Australian media is passing its tipping point.
“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.”
Mr Miller said publishers, broadcasters and filmmakers had warned about inequalities within media rules “for more than a decade” but governments failed to heed the warnings, instead choosing “political self-interest over the right of Australian communities to have their voice”.
MEAA media section director Neill Jones also called for urgent government action to prevent further devastating cutbacks to the media industry at a time when Australians relied upon it more than ever.
“The decision by News Corp Australia to suspend printing of dozens of community titles is another sign of the stresses on media proprietors from the economic downturn caused by COVID-19,” he said.
“It follows a series of announcements by smaller publishers in regional Australia that, due to declining advertising revenues, they are unable to continue publishing during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Mr Jones called on the Federal Government to immediately “unlock” the $40 million it had set aside to support regional media coverage so they could “continue the essential role they play within their communities”.
And in addition to forcing tech giants to pay for Australian content, Mr Miller said the Federal Government needed to reform copyright, defamation and media ownership laws, address Google’s domination of digital advertising, and introduce laws to protect the freedom of the press.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission recommended 23 changes to media, advertising and competition laws after an 18-month inquiry wrapped last year, but many have yet to be addressed.
Originally published as Tech giants force media ‘tipping point’