08 May 2020



More than 3 weeks after announcing “immediate” relief for the sector, the opening of the $50m Public Interest News Gathering (PING) grants program shows this Government still doesn’t get it when it comes to public interest journalism in Australia, or regional media.

The PING is late, it is inadequate, it is confused, and it undermines press freedom and the public’s right to know by putting the Minister at the centre of grants approvals for the Fourth Estate.

The Morrison Government has an appalling record and zero credibility when it comes to grants administration. The Minister should have no role in determining winners and losers when it comes to the survival of media outlets whose job it is to hold the Government to account.

The PING comes almost a year after the ACCC recommended the Government’s embattled Regional and Small Publishers Innovation Fund be replaced with a targeted grants program for local and regional journalism, and a whole five months after the Government announced it would act on this recommendation. 

The media was in crisis well before COVID-19 and it is wholly unacceptable that the Morrison Government did not have the new grants program up and running before COVID-19 hit home. 

The opening of the PING also comes over five weeks after Labor wrote to the Deputy Prime Minister requesting COVID-19 relief funding for regional and community media. It will again be weeks before successful applicants are announced and funding flows.

Now the grants program is finally here, there is a strong sense of déjà vu that this Government has, yet again, failed to craft a mature and coherent strategic policy intervention to support Australian media in the public interest. 

Just some of the questions the Minister must answer:

  • Is the PING a strategic policy intervention in response to the Final Report of the ACCC’s Digital Platforms Inquiry, or is it COVID-19 relief, or both, and how does that affect the design, objectives, administration and desired outcomes of the program?
  • Why did it take a year since the ACCC recommended it, five months since the Government agreed to it, over five weeks since Labor called for COVID-19 relief for the media, and over three weeks since the Government announced COVID-19 relief for the media, to open the new grants program?
  • The ACCC recommended a grants program in the sum of $50 million a year, with a review after three years of operation. Is the $50 million under the PING a one-off, what proportion of funding is available under the three streams and does this represent a reduction in funding available to regional and small publishers?
  • The ACCC recommended that program eligibility criteria be designed by an independent expert advisory panel. Who designed the PING eligibility criteria and who was consulted on the design?
  • The ACCC recommended the grants program be administered at arm’s-length from Government, yet “a panel of officials from the Department” will assess eligibility and the Minister will decide which grants to approve under the PING. Why has the Government trashed the need for independent, arm’s-length administration of this grants program, and why has the Government dumped the ACMA from the administration of this Fund? 
  • To what extent does the PING support local and independent publishers as opposed to larger media entities, how does the PING ensure media diversity, local newsgathering and jobs in regional Australia will be protected, and how does the PING address under-served markets?

The media is essential, not a service that should go into hibernation during COVID-19. Unfortunately we have already seen suspensions and closures of local news gathering as a result of indecision, incompetence and delay by the Morrison Government. 

The Morrison Government has failed to address press freedom concerns, failed to take responsibility for the sports rorts scandal and simply cannot be trusted with the allocation of $50 million in grants to the media sector.

We’ve seen this Government’s record on administrating grant programs. Labor urges the Government to ensure the PING is administered at arm’s-length from the Government. 

FRIDAY, 8 MAY 2020