The Morrison government has given Australian Associated Press a $5m lifeline a week after the wire service admitted it was struggling financially.
The government stepped in with an 11th hour grant under the Public Interest News Gathering program aimed at boosting the struggling media industry which has lost 1,000 jobs this year alone.
AAP had been forced to appeal to the public for money just a month after launching a slimmed down service after Nine and News Corp pulled out of funding the 85-year-old news wire and it was sold to investors.
The minister for communications Paul Fletcher said AAP was critical to media diversity, fact-based and independent journalism and regional news.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has triggered unprecedented challenges for Australia’s regional media sector, with severe declines in advertising revenue threatening the sustainability of many news outlets,” Fletcher said on Friday.
“The AAP Newswire provides services to more than 250 regional news mastheads across Australia, covering public interest content on national, state and regional news. This allows regional mastheads to concentrate on local news stories important for their communities.”
The new AAP, which is funded by a consortium of impact investors, is also facing competition from News Corp Australia’s own in-house newswire. The Murdoch company has signalled it will offer a wire service to the media when a non-compete clause expires in five months.
Sources said some media clients of AAP had only signed short-term contracts, threatening the viability of the service which currently serves much of Australia’s non-Murdoch media including Seven West Media, Guardian Australia, Australian Community Media, the ABC and SBS.
Nine Entertainment, owners of the Sydney Morning Herald and the Age is no longer a shareholder or client of AAP.
The government has extended its Ping program from $50m to $55m for AAP, which only applied for funds in August because AAP was ineligible prior to the sale in June.
Fletcher gave 107 regional broadcasters and publishers $50m under the program in June.
Labor communications spokeswoman Michelle Rowlands criticised the government for waiting five months to help AAP.
“I wrote to the Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister for Communications in April – two weeks before Ping was announced – calling for support to ensure the viability of regional and community media.”
More to follow …
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