News and content distributor AAP Newswire will close in June after 85 years of operation, citing the rise of free online content as the company's death knell.
CEO Brice Davidson said the business was no longer viable in the face of increasing free online content, leading to the closure of Newswire and AAP's Pagemasters editorial production service.
The Newswire shutdown will mean more than 180 staff located in every Australian state and territory plus New Zealand, Los Angeles and London will be left without a job. Additionally, Newswire employs around 100 freelance photographers.
Campbell Reid, chairman of AAP which is owned by Nine, News Corp Australia, The West Australian and Australian Community Media, today lamented the demise of the company which he described as "journalism's first responder".
"It is a great loss that professional and researched information provided by AAP is being substituted with the un-researched and often inaccurate information that masquerades as real news on the digital platforms," says Reid.
"The number of organisations choosing to no longer rely on the AAP service has made the business unsustainable."
The Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance (MEAA) has described AAP's decision to close Newswire irresponsible as it calls on the government to rein in the unfettered dominance of international digital giants like Google and Facebook.
"The decision to close the AAP Newswire business in June and its Pagemasters sub-editing operation in August is a gross abandonment of responsibility by its shareholders," says the MEAA.
"MEAA calls on the investors to recognise that they cannot fulfil their duty to inform the community without delivering a solution to fill the enormous void left if AAP is not available to perform its function."
MEAA Media federal president Marcus Strom says while those employed by AAP will certainly be hit hard by the closure of Newswire and Pagemasters the effects will be felt across the entire media industry.
"This decision will also devastate the media industry and the communities it serves," says Strom.
"Beancounters at the top of media organisations might think they can soldier on without AAP, but the reality is it will leave a huge hole in news coverage. Filling those holes will fall to already overburdened newsroom journalists. Or coverage will simply cease to occur."
"To lose AAP is to deny Australians across the nation of essential news and information."
Social media has been lit up with responses to the closure of the AAP, with editor in chief of Newswire Tony Gillies announcing the news on Twitter.
The saddest day: AAP closes after 85 years of excellence in journalism. The AAP family will be sorely missed. @AAPNewswireTony Gillies (@TonyGillies) March 3, 2020
AAP's numbers yesterday -Karen Sweeney (@karenlsweeney) March 3, 2020
Our top 10 sport stories were published 1595 times.
Our top 10 news stories were published 2514 times.
That's 4109 blank spaces on websites and newspapers, dead air on radio that would need to be filled without us.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews this morning on reports about @AAPNewswire's future:Marnie Banger (@marniebanger) March 2, 2020
"My view has always been that we need more voices in our public conversation, not less, and AAP for many, many years has provided a vital link to information that people need." pic.twitter.com/PO83rpS2FP
Digital giants to blame?
AAP Newswire is the latest casualty of Australia's largely unregulated media landscape that favours digital content aggregators like Google and Facebook.
In December 2019 the Federal Government announced it was taking recommendations on board from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission's (ACCC) Digital Platforms Inquiry.
The Inquiry slammed tech heavyweights for their impact on the Australian media landscape and encouraged the Government to implement reforms to create a platform-neutral framework.
The ACCC's report, released in July 2019, said platforms like Facebook and Google have "distorted" the ability of businesses to compete on their merits in advertising and media.
The watchdog recommended digital platforms provide the Australian Communications and Media Authority with codes to address the imbalance in the bargaining relationship between these platforms and news media businesses and recognise the need for value sharing and monetisation of content.
The ACCC also believes targeted grants to support local journalism of about $50 million per year are necessary to ensure publications not only survive but thrive.
This sentiment was echoed by MEAA's Strom.
"Google and Facebook are riding the coattails of news outlets, using the outlet's news stories to lure away their audiences and advertisers which leads to the platforms also taking from the revenue streams that those news outlets sorely need," says Strom.
"This erosion of media revenues through the proliferation of sharing of content for free by the giant digital platforms is a major cause of why AAP is losing subscriber revenue."
MEAA chief executive Paul Murphy has labelled the Government's response to the Inquiry as "inadequate".
"In its final response to the ACCC inquiry last year, the federal government failed to pick up on this recommendation or even to introduce proper regulation of digital platforms," says Murphy.
"The AAP crisis makes it imperative that this proposal be revisited. The government must deal with the serious case of market failure that is resulting in a decline in quality public interest journalism, which is essential for our democracy."
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