NMA Writes To Transport Secretary Over New Threat To Public Notices

The News Media Association has today written to the Transport Secretary after a new threat to public notices emerged in the form of a Government-commissioned report recommending the abolition of the requirement for transport notices to be advertised in local newspapers.

With the announcement of a new digital portal for public notices last week, local news media is leading the way in the digitisation of public notices, and could could work with Governement on this, but that does not mean that public notices can be removed from printed local newspapers.

To do so would leave millions of people, particularly elderly and vulnerable groups, disenfranchised, and cut off an essential revenue stream which funds the local journalism people have increasingly relied upon during the coronavirus pandemic, the NMA said today.   

The new threat to public notices comes after Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said Government understood the role public notices play in local newspapers and was “working closely to ensure that we protect that.”

The local media sector and scores of MPs have expressed grave concerns over proposals to remove planning notices from local papers, which would leave millions of people disenfranchised, undermining local democracy.  

Last week, the NMA announced a ground-breaking new industry digital portal, funded by £1 million from the Google News Initiative, to further promote public notices to communities and enhance local democracy by harnessing local media’s massive online audiences.

The project will see the creation of a common online portal containing public notices, including planning and transport notices, published in print by regional and local newspapers across the UK.  

The local media sector has also agreed to adopt new Public Notices Publishing Guidelines – a set of commitments to better publicise public notices, including regular editorial coverage in print and digital, and clear signposting in paper.

In a letter to Transport Secretary Grant Shapps today, the NMA said that, with the announcement of the new portal, news publishers were leading the way with “the implementation of digital systems and solutions” for public notices, as recommended by the DfT report.  

Other public sector portals have not enjoyed anything like the engagement or audience levels originally envisaged, the NMA said, receiving only a fraction of the traffic enjoyed by local news media websites.

“Developing a separate, less effective portal at significant cost to the taxpayer, would be counterproductive and unlikely to achieve the desired result of reaching the largest number of people,” the NMA said.  

“Instead of having two competing portals, which would be counterproductive and a waste of resources, the Government and local highway authorities should seek to collaborate with news publishers to harness these innovations and our expertise at facilitating large levels of public engagement to help achieve the report’s stated goal of ‘maximis[ing] the reach of its advertising to the largest number of people.’”

In the letter to Mr Shapps, the NMA pointed out that, although the industry was leading the way with the digitisation of public notices, the statutory requirement to advertise public notices must be maintained so that public awareness of the notices is not diminished.  

The NMA added: “Maintenance of statutory requirements for publication of TROs in newspapers would also be consistent with Government policy in respect of sustaining high quality journalism and, in particular, the local and regional press.”

“The withdrawal of TROs from print newspapers could even prove fatal to financially fragile local publishers. The Government has committed to support the news media industry, including most of the recommendations of the Cairncross Review which recognised that revenue derived from public notices is one of local and regional publishers’ largest sources of income, warning that ‘their sudden withdrawal could do serious damage to fragile local publishers.’”