The truth shall set you free: AAP to become Not For Profit news service
When AAP lost the financial backing of major news outlets, the nation’s media industry looked set for the end of an era. First opening over 80 years ago, Australia’s longest running newswire service has filled a significant role. With new investors stepping in to purchase the service, AAP Newswire looks set for a new life as a not-for-profit. Insights spoke to investor John McKinnon to find out what motivated him to step in.
Australian Associated Press (AAP) was first formed in 1935. One of the few non-government wire services worldwide, it has long served the needs of Australia’s newspapers by providing wholesale reports and images.
When former owners Nine and News Corp opted to end their association with the service, however, the wire service looked set to shut.
Dr John McKinnon is part of the group of some 35 investors who stepped in to express interest in the wire service last June, a decision he has partially attributed to his Christian faith.
Dr McKinnon has previously held a number of roles in the not for profit (NFP) sector, including time spent as the Program Coordinator for Christian aid organisation Tear Australia. He is also a former President of the Anabaptist Association of Australia and New Zealand.
“Our key aim in seeking to save AAP is the desire for diverse, independent, unbiased, fact-based journalism that serves all of Australia (regional media is very dependent on AAP as a source),” Dr McKinnon said.
“Any structure we set up had to ensure, as strongly as possible that this mission was locked in and not open to corruption by shareholders.”
The move to purchase AAP newswire will save some 70 jobs that would have otherwise been lost. According to Dr McKinnon, the organisation’s new policies will guarantee the editorial independence of those working for AAP Newswire. Decisions by management and the board will answer to the charitable purpose-built into the constitution, rather than shareholders.
“An NFP structure allows a mission oriented organisation rather than a profit oriented organisation, that is not at risk of shareholder influence or sale to the highest bidder who might have different values,” Dr McKinnon said.
“Also, given the need to cover losses for some period of time, an NFP structure allowed for philanthropic funding in the short term.”
While the business model will change, AFP Newswire will retain the previous distribution model for written content and images.
“It is “media without the mogul”, a public interest media organisation with a mission to serve the public and no more,” Dr McKinnon said.
“As I have said in every interview, no financial contributor has any control or influence over the output of the new AAP. No profits will ever flow out the door to shareholders.”
“So I think the structure is the key part of this deal. The technical term is probably “social enterprise”. That was the subject of my PhD thesis 10 years ago now and I’m very pleased to be finding practical application and creating a model for a better way of doing business and doing good.”
Dr McKinnon told Insights that his Christian faith played a part in the decision to get involved, but noted that his motivation was not dissimilar to that of his non-Christian colleagues.
“My Christian faith is the foundation of all my work for justice and a better world. I have long believed that Jesus’ call on his followers is to continue his work of bringing the Kingdom of God into reality on earth,” he said.
“My non-Christians friends and colleagues will use the language of justice, inclusion, democracy…but in practice, we are working towards the same goals. Independent journalism is very much a justice issue.”
“Democracy only works when the public is adequately informed about the issues at stake. Information is a key tool for empowerment. Entrenched power is served by controlling information flows. Jesus talked about the truth setting us free. I think that has application to the current state of journalism in Australia.”
“AAP is certainly not the complete answer to the current woes of our media industry. However, as an independent and unbiased source of news, it forms the foundation upon which can be built a truly democratised media sector that in turn can form the foundation for a more equal, democratic and just society.”