Save Our Voices: How Ray Martin is helping regional media fight for survival

Ray Martin is the face of the Save Our Voices campaign which launches on Monday night with advertisements on TV and a dedicated website.
Ray Martin is the face of the Save Our Voices campaign which launches on Monday night with advertisements on TV and a dedicated website.

Regional TV networks Prime Media Group, WIN Network and Southern Cross Austereo say a "commercially sustainable, self-funding plan" to help secure the future of local news services for regional Australians was put to the federal government more than a year ago but has been ignored.

The traditional broadcast rivals have joined together with news publisher ACM, the owner of this website, to go public with their fight for reforms to media ownership and control laws they say are obsolete in the digital era and jeopardising the viability of Australia's regional media.

Officially announcing Monday's launch of the "Save Our Voices" campaign featuring veteran TV journalist Ray Martin, the four companies said urgent regulatory change was needed to allow them to form alliances or merge so they could more effectively compete against the international and metropolitan media companies now operating in regional media markets via the NBN.

"If regional media businesses are to survive, the government must overhaul media regulations that were devised 30 years ago, at a time before the internet existed," the Save Our Voices coalition said in a statement.

ACM executive chairman Antony Catalano said regional media companies needed to be able to make "commercially sensible decisions that allow us to stay profitable, sustainable and self-sufficient ... to keep the voices of regional Australia strong and to keep our trusted local news services viable".

"Regional media outlets that have been part of their communities for decades - and in the case of a number of ACM's newspapers more than 150 years - need the freedom to structure our businesses efficiently so we can achieve the scale necessary to compete with the unregulated digital services of metropolitan media and global internet giants," he said.

Mr Catalano co-owns ACM with Alex Waislitz and his Thorney Investments Group and they also hold a major stake in Prime Media Group.

The Save Our Voices campaign will feature five-time Gold Logie winner Martin in TV, radio and newspaper messages plus a dedicated website featuring the former 60 Minutes star's interviews with community leaders and industry chiefs.

In his interview with Martin, Prime CEO Ian Audsley says a rescue plan for regional media was submitted to the government more than 12 months ago but requests for meetings to discuss it had met with "no response".

"I sit here and ask myself if they're not helping us who are they helping?," Mr Audsley says.

The Save Our Voices website is due to go live at 6pm on Monday when the first of Martin's TV spots goes to air.

WIN Network chief executive Andrew Lancaster said: "To continue to provide essential news, information and support services to regional Australia, our industry needs modern regulations that reflect the dramatic increase in competition facilitated by the NBN".

Southern Cross Austereo CEO Grant Blackley said in the Save Our Voices media statement that the 40 per cent of small businesses located in regional areas relied on local media for their own growth.

"We should envision a better place where there is a strong and sustainable local voice and where government recognises the contribution of people and businesses outside the capital cities," Mr Blackley said.

Prime's Mr Audsley noted the federal government's quick action as the COVID-19 pandemic hit regional economies with funding for local journalism via the $50million Public Interest News Gathering program.

"Along with JobKeeper, that assistance should see us through the worst impacts of the pandemic," he said.

"However, we need the government to act quickly again on a more economically sustainable plan to ensure regional Australians receive the very best local media services beyond 2021."

This story How Ray Martin is helping regional media fight for survival first appeared on The Canberra Times.