Big Victorian bias in media funding

WA a forgotten state for new innovation funds

COMMENT by ANDREW SMITH, editor

THE federal government’s new ‘innovation’ fund to assist small news media has kicked off with a huge bias to Victoria and eastern states rural publishers while WA gets nothing.

This raises serious questions about the political management of the $60 million fund which sprang from the horse-trading between the Turnbull government and then senator Nick Xenophon for support in watering down Australia’s restrictive cross media ownership laws in 2017.

Of 186 applicants across Australia vying for a slice of the $16 million first round not one from WA
was successful including the Fremantle Herald and its stablemate the Perth Voice.

Massive shortfall

In addition, the federal communications minister, Victorian senator Mitch Fifield, oversaw the release of only $3.6 million with no explanation for the massive shortfall, no state by state breakdown of applicants nor the amount each successful bidder received from the behind-closed-doors selection process: Or why three publishers, Melbourne’s The Saturday Paper owned by a multi-millionaire property developer received three grants and two others two grants each.

But even more disturbing are the echoes back 25 years to the ‘Sports Rorts Affair’, when then federal Labor sports minister in the Keating government Ros Kelly lost her job for preferential funding of marginal Labor seats.

Fifield’s electorate

With the 2019 innovation fund, the real winner from the signature of Victorian senator Fifield is Victoria, his electorate, with 14 successful applicants of 25 approved, many of them Victorian country publishers. Other winners are the 16 Coalition-held federal seats in and beyond Victoria where 64 per cent of the successful applicants operate.

And this decision by the senator was made in the aftermath of the Victorian state elections where the Opposition Liberal party was smashed by voters, deepening worries about the fate of the Morrison Coalition government in the upcoming May federal elections.

The rest of the successful applicants were from NSW with just five approvals, Queensland with three, South Australia two and Tasmania one.

West Australia and the Northern Territory were the biggest losers with none.

The Fremantle Herald and Perth Voice were notified of the rejection on the Friday before Christmas with a two-line email which stated “Your application satisfied the eligibility criteria for funding… and progressed to the merit assessment stage. However your application… was not successful”. No reasons were given.

Internship programme

The independent, locally owned Herald and Voice had sought funding to train ‘citizen’ journalists for online publishing. This was to be an extension of its 29 year internship programme which has helped train scores of successful news journalists.

Apart from the Herald and Voice only the online media review site Mumbrella has reported so far on this controversial decision.

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