Make newspaper subscriptions tax deductible and review defamation law, inquiry recommends

Subscriptions to reputable news outlets should be made tax deductible, and the nation’s harsh defamation laws should be reviewed, a parliamentary inquiry into journalism has recommended.

It proposed Treasury examine ways the costs and benefits of making news subscriptions tax deductible for all Australians – but only for what committee chair Catryna Bilyk described as “trustworthy” media organisations. She did not identify which outlets would be included.

Many taxpayers claim subscriptions as deductions in their line of work, but this recommendation would extend that tax break to everyone, in a bid to boost the flagging stocks of media companies struggling to fund journalism in the digital age.

But the stature of the Labor-Greens dominated committee, derided by its Coalition members as “largely substance-free”, has been weakened by the departure of most of its founders from the Parliament.

The inquiry into public interest journalism was enthusiastically established by former senators Sam Dastyari, Scott Ludlam, Nick Xenophon and Jacqui Lambie – all of whom have now left the Senate or been forced out because of dual citizenship.

Liberal senators James Paterson and Jonathon Duniam, while not dissenting from the report’s recommendations, dismissed the entire undertaking as grandstanding and devoid of substance.

They acknowledged the limits Australia’s defamation laws can place on investigative journalism but said it was a matter for the states.

The inquiry, tabled Monday night, recommends the Council of Australian Governments review the country’s defamation laws to ensure they strike the right balance. The inquiry had heard evidence about the extraordinary costs of defamation proceedings in Australia, including the record $4.56 million payout to actress Rebel Wilson who won a case against Bauer Media.

Senators also recommended the government direct the Australian Law Reform Commission to examine all laws related to the reporting of national security and border protection matters, with a view to identifying any measures that were “unjustifiably harsh or draconian”.

Senator Paterson and Senator Duniam agreed that recommendation was “a worthy proposal”, despite the Turnbull government having legislation before the Parliament that could see journalists jailed for up to 15 years for dealing with or communicating classified information.

Committee deputy chair Sarah Hanson-Young, of the Greens, said journalism in Australia was “at a crisis point” and “we need, more than ever, a robust and well-supported public interest journalism sector”.

The inquiry also called for the ABC, SBS and the community broadcasting sector to be “adequately funded” by taxpayers.

Subscriptions to reputable news outlets should be made tax deductible, and the nation’s harsh defamation laws should be reviewed, a parliamentary inquiry into journalism has recommended.

It proposed Treasury examine ways the costs and benefits of making news subscriptions tax deductible for all Australians – but only for what committee chair Catryna Bilyk described as “trustworthy” media organisations. She did not identify which outlets would be included.

Many taxpayers claim subscriptions as deductions in their line of work, but this recommendation would extend that tax break to everyone, in a bid to boost the flagging stocks of media companies struggling to fund journalism in the digital age.

But the stature of the Labor-Greens dominated committee, derided by its Coalition members as “largely substance-free”, has been weakened by the departure of most of its founders from the Parliament.

The inquiry into public interest journalism was enthusiastically established by former senators Sam Dastyari, Scott Ludlam, Nick Xenophon and Jacqui Lambie – all of whom have now left the Senate or been forced out because of dual citizenship.

Liberal senators James Paterson and Jonathon Duniam, while not dissenting from the report’s recommendations, dismissed the entire undertaking as grandstanding and devoid of substance.

They acknowledged the limits Australia’s defamation laws can place on investigative journalism but said it was a matter for the states.

The inquiry, tabled Monday night, recommends the Council of Australian Governments review the country’s defamation laws to ensure they strike the right balance. The inquiry had heard evidence about the extraordinary costs of defamation proceedings in Australia, including the record $4.56 million payout to actress Rebel Wilson who won a case against Bauer Media.

Senators also recommended the government direct the Australian Law Reform Commission to examine all laws related to the reporting of national security and border protection matters, with a view to identifying any measures that were “unjustifiably harsh or draconian”.

Senator Paterson and Senator Duniam agreed that recommendation was “a worthy proposal”, despite the Turnbull government having legislation before the Parliament that could see journalists jailed for up to 15 years for dealing with or communicating classified information.

Committee deputy chair Sarah Hanson-Young, of the Greens, said journalism in Australia was “at a crisis point” and “we need, more than ever, a robust and well-supported public interest journalism sector”.

The inquiry also called for the ABC, SBS and the community broadcasting sector to be “adequately funded” by taxpayers.