Last week two governments in two countries on either side of the globe took unprecedented steps to ensure the survival of print journalism.

In the American state of Washington, where the Seattle Post-Intelligencer became a symbol of newspaper demise in April as the largest US daily paper to go solely online, Democratic governor Chris Gregoire is being hailed as a media messiah.

The Daily Beast reports, “This week she signed into law a 40 percent corporate-tax break for ‘every person engaging within this state in the business of printing a newspaper, publishing a newspaper, or both’.”

In the Netherlands Minister for the Media Ronald Plasterk announced the details of a scheme to fully fund sixty young journalists, two for each Dutch paper, for a period of two years.

The Guardian reports, “…the decision had been reached as young journalists were often the first to lose their jobs when cuts were made and the current economic climate in the Netherlands was one of decreased circulations and revenue from ads.”

Commentators have been intensely debating the concept of government funded media since the global financial crisis last year forced a rapid collapse in advertising revenues and subsequently hastened the closure or shift online for newspapers world wide.

In the United States the print media is disintegrating at such a fast rate that the government has become explicit in its public support of news media, openly debating options to save it.

Earlier this month American Senator John Kerry initiated a Senate hearing on that country’s “endangered” newspaper industry, followed by President Barack Obama acknowledging the importance of news media as the fourth estate.

At the White House correspondents’ dinner last week Obama said, “your ultimate success as an industry is essential to the success of our democracy.”

“You help all of us who serve at the pleasure of the American people do our jobs better by holding us accountable, by demanding honesty, by preventing us from taking shortcuts and falling into easy political games that people are so desperately weary of.”

Unlike Kerry, Obama maintains the age old line that media must be independent from the government for this to work, so no bank-style bailouts or nationalizations are on the horizon for American papers.

Yesterday Crikey publisher Eric Beecher argued that Australia’s primary broadsheets, The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, face a similar fate to American newspapers.

When contacted by Crikey, MEAA spokesman Jonathan Este reiterated the significance of the media as the fourth estate, but points to existing “traditional” Australian government support of the media, “mindful of the importance of the free press”, as the appropriate path.

“The government already does support journalism through the ABC and SBS and independent news through advertising. It’s worth considering at what point does independent media become less independent?”

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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