Nearly half of Australia would support increased taxes to save public interest journalism

Tax rebates for investment in public interest journalism would have wide support and would be an efficient and effective way to boost the amount of democratically important information available to the public, new research has found.

Tax rebates for investment in public interest journalism would have wide support and would be an efficient and effective way to boost the amount of democratically important information available to the public, new research has found.

The Public Interest Journalism Initiative (PIJI) has released three pieces of research that show: 

PIJI said that together the three reports show that tax concessions similar to those provided for research and development in Australia could boost investment in public interest journalism and provide considerable public benefit, as additional resources would be used to fill existing gaps in public information.

The organisation said that such an approach would also be in accord with the international research on the issue.

“This research is extremely robust,” said PIJI Chair, Professor Allan Fels. “It shows that tax concessions are a legitimate avenue for the support of public interest journalism, which is declining rapidly and is a critical foundation for our democracy.”

The research follows the ACCC Digital Platforms Inquiry report, released earlier this year, which found the amount of quality journalism available to the public had declined sharply due to the collapse of commercial media business models. However, the ACCC  dismissed the idea of tax rebates without conducting a detailed investigation or analysis.

The research was conducted for PIJI by Essential Media with Applied Economics P/L, the Centre for International Economics (CIE) and PIJI itself.

How are Australian’s willing to support public interest journalism through taxes? 

The survey conducted by Essential Media with Applied Economics shows that 89 per cent of Australians want their media to inform and educate and 46 per cent of Australians would be willing to support increased taxes of $6 a year to support this.

The CIE research commissioned by PIJI estimated that Australians have an average willingness to pay for increased public interest journalism of between $1.51 and $2.94 per month, which translates to between $380 million and $740 million a year in total support for the sector. 

PIJI said this is a conservative estimate based on statistical analysis and is the first time research has quantified this benefit. Comparing the benefits with the potential costs of a tax concession scheme (using benefit cost analysis) suggests the tax incentive is a policy worth considering seriously.

Supporting small and regional publishers to provide better independent journalism

A third piece of research conducted by PIJI involved interviews with news editors across Australia to determine the nature of the coverage they undertake, how this is changing and the deficits that have emerged due to declining resources. 

It found this decline is seriously undermining the quantity and quality of the information available to Australians, that reporting lacks the breadth and depth editors desire, particularly in the areas of courts and local government. 

It also found that investigative journalism is now out of reach of smaller and local publications and that local outlets are more likely to have their news agenda driven by advertising considerations.

Previous research conducted by PIJI earlier this year showed 68 per cent of metropolitan suburbs and 45 per cent of regional areas were experiencing a very sharp decline in journalism.

Professor Fels added “PIJI would like to see more work done on the provision of tax incentives for producers of public interest journalism. Not only does our research show tax incentives to be effective, they are also a way of protecting press freedom by providing funding at arm’s length from the government of the day.”

The complete research, as well as PIJI’s response to the ACCC report, can be found on PIJI’s website.   

What is PIJI? 

PIJI has been established as a limited-life initiative (3-5 years) to conduct research, develop policy and promote public discussion to ensure “a sustainable, national ecosystem for independent public interest journalism”.

Public interest journalism is defined as reporting information that the public is entitled to know, and which holds authority to account. The PIJI describes it as a “vital pillar of Australian democracy”.

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