The State Government has thrown regional newspapers a welcome lifeline in the form of extra advertising on health issues relating to coronavirus.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said his government would spend $4.7million on weekly advertising in more than 100 regional media outlets over the next six months to bolster local newspapers and keep regional Victorians informed about coronavirus.
Announcing the "emergency support to help regional print media survive", Mr Andrews said the "immediate and reliable" income from government advertising would help the businesses get through the worst of the COVID-19 crisis and rebuild.
"We're giving regional papers the certainty and support they need to keep writing, keep printing and keep employing Victorians," Mr Andrews said.
Executive chairman of news publisher ACM, the publisher of The Courier, Antony Catalano has applauded a Victorian government support package for regional newspapers and urged other states and territories to follow suit.
Mr Catalano welcomed the Premier's move as "a terrific first step"
"Daniel Andrews has shown a distinct appreciation for the vital role our industry plays in connecting communities in the more remote parts of the state," he said.
The Federal Government had made "some small steps" by finding $13.4million in new money for a $50million "public interest news gathering" program for commercial radio, TV and newspaper businesses serving regional Australians.
Communications Minister Paul Fletcher announced the program last week. It includes the repurposing of unallocated funds from the government's Regional and Small Publishers Jobs and Innovation Package.
"We hope and expect that significantly more assistance is given to our industry to ensure our communities can get all the information they need regarding coronavirus and its economic and social impacts," Mr Catalano said.
"Mr Andrews has very quickly defined how his contribution to regional media is to be spent and we hope that Minister Fletcher is as decisive in quickly determining the guidelines for how his $50million in grants will be allocated."
Victoria's spending pledge comes as the NSW Government jeopardises local government support for regional newspapers in that state by removing the traditional requirement for council notices to be advertised in local newspapers.
Under amendments to local government regulations announced on Friday by Minister for Local Government Shelley Hancock, councils will be allowed to publish the relevant notices on their websites.
The NSW Government's move could compound the difficulties of publishers like ACM, which said last week that the economic impact of coronanvirus control measures on advertising revenues has left it "no choice" but to temporarily suspend the operations of four press sites and the printing of a number of its non-daily newspapers until June 29.
News Corp Australia has halted printing of 60 community papers.
The Elliott Newspaper Group last month suspended printing of its titles, though has since resumed publishing a Saturday-only print edition of its Sunraysia Daily in Mildura in Victoria's far north-west.
The Andrews government's newspaper advertising package was developed in consultation with the Victorian Country Press Association.
The government's ads will carry health messages about COVID-19.
"We need to get the message out to every corner of the state - stay home, protect the health system and save lives," Premier Andrews said.
"This investment will help us do that. Coronavirus does not discriminate - so it's vital every Victorian knows what to do to protect themselves and their loved ones, wherever they live."