In a shock announcement last week Australian Community Media closed all but a small handful of its regional newspapers in South Australia, including the Northern Argus, Port Pirie Recorder and Flinders News leaving communities devasted, said Member for Frome Geoff Brock MP.
Mr Brock said he was saddened and shocked that these important voices for regional news had been silenced and had fallen victim to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Australian Community Media has made a decision to close the majority of its rural newspapers until the end of the financial year, but I have grave concerns about what will happen to them in the future,” Mr Brock said.
“The Northern Argus office in Clare has been closed and all its news and photographic records, as well as memorabilia, have been donated to the Clare History Group – this doesn’t sound like an office which will reopen in the future, although I sincerely hope it will.
“These newspapers have had a community history spanning generations, The Northern Argus has been going for 156 years for example.”
Mr Brock said he had been told that the Port Pirie office of the Recorder and Flinders News would remain open, but that no newspapers would be published from there.
“Currently, the editors will remain in place and will look after publishing a limited amount of news stories on various regional newspapers’ websites.
“It is good to see that privately owned newspapers are still operating and that we have the Plains Producer and Yorke Peninsula Country Times, but there are no other newspapers of record which cover the northern part of my electorate, leaving communities without a news lifeline.”
Mr Brock said Australian Community Media had announced that their smaller non-daily newspapers would not be published until the end of June, but would offer limited news coverage on their websites.
“Staff have been stood down, which has contributed to job losses in our region and what is most troubling is the loss of community connection, with regional residents having no means of communicating special events, celebrations or milestones.
“I have always said that country newspapers are the lifeblood of their communities, and this decision has been a devastating blow.”
Mr Brock said he thought that the decision by Australian Community Media to close so many of its weekly regional publications may have been premature, given the Australian Government’s announcement of a COVID-19 relief package following detailed consultations with ACMA and Screen Australia to provide short-term support for the media sector through a $50 Public Interest News Gathering program to provide support for journalism in regional Australia.
“I would strongly urge Australian Community Media to re-evaluate its decision and make a firm commitment to reactivate its regional newspapers at the beginning of the new financial year, to ensure communities do not permanently lose these important communication streams,” Mr Brock said.