The Nationals leader and Member for Murray Plains, Peter Walsh, says the Victorian government is condemning regional media to obscurity through its decision to exclude country newspaper publishers for COVID-19 support.
Mr Walsh said it could almost be seen as a campaign to deprive regional communities of an independent and locally relevant source of information.
He said he wants the government to urgently reverse that decision to help keep people informed.
“The Nationals raised this in the Parliament last week, pointing out country newspapers were not eligible to apply for business support because the Andrews Labor Government had excluded them from its already very narrow eligibility criteria,” Mr Walsh said.
“Local news organisations have been smashed by COVID. While country journalists continue their tireless work to report on the news that matters to our communities, advertising revenues have declined dramatically,” he said.
“This is putting newsrooms under even greater pressure, eroding the already slim margins of the print media.
“Last year, the state government committed to at least one page of advertising in all local newspapers each week.
“When that commitment expired, many local papers found themselves with less government advertising revenue coming in and they were not eligible for any business support grants.
“Some regional news outlets have had to stand down staff and others forced to fold.
“Meanwhile, the government continues to pour millions upon millions of dollars into self-promotion in the city.”
Mr Walsh said support for regional newsrooms was more important now than ever, in a time where COVID-19 and vaccination misinformation is rampant online.
“Our local journalists are trusted, credible sources of information, relied on by our communities in times of uncertainty,” he said.
“Our local newspapers have done an outstanding job, providing rolling coverage on local COVID outbreaks.
“Given the enormous pressure facing country journalists, I am calling on the government to immediately reverse its decision and expand COVID-19 business support to include country newspapers.”