COUNTRY PRESS ASSOCIATIONS
From as early as the 1870s, in New South Wales and Victoria, country press proprietors talked of organising themselves so they could argue the case for legislative change with governments. They wanted the government to subsidise the cable press charges from Europe and to abolish or reduce postage charges on newspapers mailed to subscribers.
Twenty-two Victorian newspapers and four interstate ones formed the Provincial Newspaper Union in December 1883. The union, which supplied some capital-city advertising, cable news and other copy, soon became primarily a commercial undertaking rather than a professional association. The Provincial Newspaper Press Association of New South Wales was formed at a meeting in Sydney on 23 August 1890, mainly to fight the imposition of a postage tax on newspapers. Both of these early organisations survived only a few years. The Country Press Cooperative Company Limited was formed in Melbourne on 22 December 1891, with 60 country newspaper proprietors joining. It provided shareholders with telegraphic news, feature articles and supplements, and advertising from Melbourne firms. Provision was made for 85 shareholders. The company still operates.
Opposition to the libel laws finally helped trigger the formation in October 1900 of an enduring organisation in New South Wales, the NSW Country Press Association (NSWCPA), the main objectives of which were to watch over and protect the interests, rights and privileges of the country press of New South Wales, and to assist in promoting its greater efficiency and influence; to watch legislation and administration of laws affecting the rights and privileges of the country press; and to promote and safeguard newspaper interests in regard to the law of libel, to initiate such libel reforms as may from time to time appear necessary, and to provide mutual help, legal opinions and advice to members seeking them.
Within a few years, the NSW body was so successful that it became the inspiration and model for similar associations in other states. First, however, separate organisations were formed in Queensland—one in 1901 (for northern newspapers) and a second in 1907 (southern newspapers). They amalgamated in August 1908 to form the Queensland Country Press Association. The Victorian Provincial Press Association was formed in September 1910 after a meeting called by members of the Country Press Cooperative. It incorporated in 1957 to become the Victorian Country Press Association Ltd. The Provincial Press Association of South Australia was formed in March 1912, and within weeks all but three of more than 40 country newspapers had joined. A Western Australian Provincial Press Association was formed in October 1918.
At the 1906 NSW annual conference, 163 press representatives, including some from Queensland and Victoria, ‘unanimously affirmed the desirability of establishing a Commonwealth Country Press Association’. Called the Australasian Press Association (to include New Zealand), its objects were ‘to promote the general interests of the members in relation to advertising rates, cable and telegraphic services, the laws relating to newspapers, and any other matters of mutual concern to the newspapers of Australasia’. The first president was Thomas Temperley (Richmond River Times, Ballina). New Zealand did join the association, but its membership faded when it formed its own national association after World War I. Meanwhile, ‘Provincial’ had been inserted into the title of the Australian-based organisation, and from 1925 it became known as the Australian Provincial Press Association. In 1986, it became Country Press Australia.
In 1926, the NSWCPA adopted a Code of Ethics to guide its members on how to conduct their newspapers, and later made compliance with the code a condition of membership. It introduced a system of district councils in 1914 to give members—especially those distant from Sydney—a stronger voice in the association’s affairs. Victoria introduced a similar system in 1916; however, the system faltered before being re-established in 1924 with new impetus, then having to be revived again in 1933. In 1950, the councils were renamed ‘groups’, and they have continued with varying success.
Among the hard-working, inspirational individuals who took charge of the state associations’ business affairs at the beginning were Thomas Mitchell Shakespeare (NSW, 1904–28), Abraham Edgar Joseph (Queensland, 1910–38), William Holmes Waddell (Victoria, 1910–49) and Charles Bernard O’Reilly (South Australia, 1914–51). Shakespeare also served as secretary of the national organisation (1906–29, 1931–38).
Ernest Christian Sommerlad became the manager of the NSW Country Press Cooperative Co. in 1929 when Shakespeare retired—and when New South Wales split the association secretary’s role and the management of the Coop. He transformed the business operations of the NSW organisation in the mid-1930s, converting the Coop to a limited-liability company, hiving off the news agency, Country Press Uttings, as a separate company and establishing a new advertising service company, Gotham Australia Pty Ltd, which soon developed international working arrangements.
In 1916, daily newspaper representatives established a sectional committee of the NSWCPA to work out how to improve advertising revenue and news services for the dailies. The dailies in Tamworth, Murwillumbah, Lismore and Grafton formed a marketing arm, the Associated Northern Dailies, in 1923, and Maitland joined them in 1931. At the 1933 Australian Provincial Press Association (APPA) conference, three Queensland representatives put the dailies’ case forcibly. Queensland secretary Joseph warned that unless the APPA gave the dailies a fairer deal, there would be a split. One of the Queensland dissidents, Henry John Manning (Mackay), was elected president of the APPA in 1936, the year in which the Australian Provincial Daily Press Ltd was formed. It became the Regional Dailies of Australia Ltd (RDA) in 1969 and ceased to function in 1997 because the major companies had established their own marketing arms and had withdrawn their newspapers from RDA membership.
Since 1961, the APPA/Country Press Association has been located variously in Melbourne (1961–80, 1998– ) and Sydney (1980–97), depending on whether the Victorian or NSW association was providing the secretariat for the national body. Since January 2010, the Victorian association has administered the NSW association.
REFs: R. Kirkpatrick, Country Conscience (2000) and Bold Type (2010); E.L. Sommerlad, Serving the Country Press1900–2000 (2000).