ALL governments should be inspired by the promise of newly re-elected Victorian premier Dan Andrews to protect the future of regional media by guaranteeing no less than one full page of government advertising each week in every regional newspaper in Victoria.
So say regional newspaper publisher ACM (owner of this masthead) and industry body the Country Press Association (CPA), who welcomed the Labor Government commitment, which was made during the election campaign.
ACM and the CPA, which together account for more than 320 regional newspapers, described the guarantee as exactly the kind of support the sector needs, saying it would provide certainty around revenue without the need for regional newspaper publishers to continually ask for grants to support their vital service.
The two groups have strongly urged the Federal Government and all other state and territory governments to follow suit, and for opposition parties to commit to matching the move.
"As an industry, we want a leg up, not a handout," ACM managing director Tony Kendall said.
"Regional newspapers are essential to the communities they serve. But massive cost increases for newsprint are threatening these lifelines of information and connection.
"Diverting a modest portion of an otherwise huge government advertising budget is an elegant way of helping newspapers overcome their challenges and stay in business."
CPA president Andrew Manuel said it was time for real change to help an essential industry. Despite multiple federal inquiries into regional media, he said, no findings had been implemented "or even discussed in a meaningful way".
"This would be a huge boost for the sector and for public interest journalism," he said.
In announcing the move during his successful election campaign, Premier Andrews said that backing regional journalists and their newspapers to keep serving their communities was "what matters".
"Whether it is a bushfire, a flood emergency or a global pandemic, time and time again we have seen regional newspapers step up and serve their communities in incredibly important ways," he said.
Mr Kendall and Mr Manuel both acknowledged the Public Interest News Gathering (PING) grants from the Federal Government, which had helped the sector through the COVID pandemic and also provided emergency short-term relief after a huge jump in paper prices.
Mr Manuel said the PING funding had been the difference between survival and closure for many regional newspapers.
"We are extremely grateful for the short-term support, but deeper change is needed," he said.
"We need all governments and political parties to recognise the importance of regional media and commit to preserving it."
"We don't want to keep asking for grants," Mr Kendall said.
"Regional newspapers need a stable footing on which to build for their future success. It is all well and good to hold discussions and inquiries, but this need is urgent. If governments don't move quickly to save regional newspapers, there will be far fewer of them to save."
ACM publishes many of Australia's most respected regional newspapers in every state and territory in Australia. In Victoria, its140 titles include The Courier in Ballarat, The Standard in Warrnambool and The Bendigo Advertiser.
More than 1.5 million Victorians live in regional Victoria, with more people migrating to its regional cities and communities every year.