How the Australian government should support public interest journalism in a time of crisis: Our view

The Walkley Foundation has called for the government to address the challenges facing journalism with a multifaceted package of tax incentives, financial support and stakeholder negotiations. The Foundation’s proposals are part of a submission of analysis and recommendations to the Australian Senate Select Committee on the Future of Public Interest Journalism.

The Walkleys welcomed the establishment of this committee earlier this year and have been heartened by the breadth, depth and sheer number of submissions offered by media organisations and the public thus far.

Journalism, the media and Australia’s democracy are facing challenges that are fundamentally reshaping the way we all work. The traditional business model for news has collapsed. Technologies for producing and distributing news are changing at a breakneck pace. And disinformation, along with lessened public trust in media, poses significant risks.

“The government has a clear role to play in making Australian journalism a robust, sustainable industry,” said Walkleys CEO Jacqui Park. “That means providing funding for innovation, as in other industries, and creating a climate where the best new ideas and models can be tested and succeed.”

The Walkleys have long been at the heart of helping the media industry adapt to digital disruption. As part of this, the Foundation has urged the government to support innovation and the creation of new media ventures and tools through the Walkley Incubator and Innovation Fund and establishing a fund for independent journalism.

The Walkleys have recommended that the government can help by:

  • Supporting the growth of a nonprofit news ecosystem, including
      — Making donations to not-for-profit journalism tax-deductible
      — Building structures that enable existing for-profit media to transition to not-for-profit status
      — Funding not-for-profit journalism organisations and independent journalism
  • Increasing support for public and community broadcasting
  • Earmarking funding for news media in broader government innovation initiatives
  • Creating a general tax deduction for news subscriptions
  • Negotiating with platforms to contribute money that will be reinvested into journalism

The Walkley archives provide many examples of the kind of journalism we need to protect. Stories like 2013 Gold Walkley winner Joanne McCarthy’s years of investigation into child sex abuse in the church. The work of 2014 Gold winner Adele Ferguson with whistleblowers outing banking or insurance abuses. Or 2016 Young Australian Journalist of the Year Elly Bradfield’s intimate stories on ice addiction in her hometown of St. George, Queensland. And we cannot always measure the impact of a story in terms of royal commissions or laws changed: 2016 Gold winner Andrew Quilty took photographs of an Afghan man killed on an operating table, and subsequent photos of the man’s family and life, opened our eyes to suffering and reminded us that those a world away are in many ways just like us.

As Park says, “Australian journalism is too foundational to our society to let it implode through neglect. The stronger it is, the stronger we all are.”

Read the Walkley Foundation’s submission to the committee here.