PUBLIC or private subsidies may be required to sustain quality journalism and to address an emerging information gap in the digital era, according to federal Labor backbencher Andrew Leigh.
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With Cabinet set to consider a contentious package of media reforms, Dr Leigh will today argue ”appropriate subsidies” could be part of the policy mix sustaining quality journalism into the future.

Dr Leigh says former Labor frontbencher Lindsay Tanner and shadow communications minister Malcolm Turnbull have both flagged subsidies for quality newspapers — Mr Tanner arguing for direct grants, Mr Turnbull favouring tax breaks.

”Naturally, such a proposal would need to pass a reasonable cost-benefit test, but I am inclined to think that the benefit of a better-informed public would be likely to justify the cost of the subsidy,” Dr Leigh will argue at a lecture at the University of Canberra.

He says governments should look to using any subsidy ”to ensure that public money increased the amount of political information among those who are disengaged from politics.”

Dr Leigh argues technological change has delivered a wealth of information to engaged consumers of news, but also privileged nasty, shallow and opinionated voices.

He contends the rise of the opinion cycle is fuelling polarisation in the electorate — threatening ”to split people into increasingly extreme echo chambers.”

Technology has also fuelled ”nastiness in political reporting” — because newspapers face competition from online outlets, and because the internet permits contributors to be anonymous.

He argues the media revolution under way here and internationally is not ideologically neutral. The fragmented environment benefits ”populists and libertarians, and (is) confronting for long-game reformers.”

Dr Leigh also criticises a culture of talking points in politics, rather than a culture of story-telling linking the reforms of today with the events of the past. ”Too much reliance on talking points and ‘lines’ can win the battle, but lose the war.”

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