Journalism inquiry recommends tax deductions for news media subscriptions

Tax deductions for news media subscriptions and adequate funding for public and community broadcasting are among the recommendations made by a parliamentary inquiry into public interest journalism.

In May last year, the inquiry was formed to look into the current state of public interest journalism and whether government should play a role in keeping it healthy.

The Senate committee heard evidence that more than 2,500 editorial jobs had been cut from media organisations in Australia since 2011 and Coalition funding cuts to the ABC and SBS had resulted in a significant loss of local content and the closure of foreign reporting bureaux.

The report recommends a review of Australian defamation laws and an audit of any “unjustifiably harsh or draconian laws” that make the reporting of national security and border protection difficult.

That recommendation flies in the face of the Turnbull government’s overhaul of secrecy laws in Australia, which has been criticised as having a “chilling” effect on public interest journalism.

But the select committee on the future of public interest journalism report has few backers left in parliament since the committee lost its dominant Labor and Greens members before its work was complete because senators Sam Dastyari, Scott Ludlam, Nick Xenophon and Jacqui Lambie were forced to resign due to dual citizenship issues. It was left up to the current chair, the Labor senator Catryna Bilyk, to release the report.

Dastyari and Xenophon were accused by Coalition senators of using the public hearings to grandstand.

The committee hearings attracted a lot of attention early on when an appearance by the Fairfax Media chief executive, Greg Hywood, saw the senators grill him about his reported pay of up to $7.2m in 2016.

Tabled in parliament on Monday, the report also called for an expansion of whistleblower and shield law protections for journalists.

Another one of the eight recommendations was that schools include media literacy in the curriculum so young people can be educated about the difference between fake news and news from reputable outlets.

While they did not put out a dissenting report, the committee’s Coalition senators, James Paterson and Jonathon Duniam, made it clear they were “sceptical” about the value of another media inquiry when Labor and the Greens had “obstructed and opposed” the government’s own media reform legislation.

Coalition senators said the government had put in place several measures to support public interest journalism in Australia including the media reform package, the $60.4m regional and small publishers jobs package, funding the ABC and SBS to the tune of $1.3bn a year and the provision of $6.1m in funding for the community radio broadcasters.