NMA Calls On Welsh Government To Keep Public Notices In Local Newspapers

The News Media Association has called on the Welsh government to keep public notices in printed local newspapers following proposals to change the requirements for notices publicising council tax changes.

Following a statement in the Welsh Parliament by the Minister for Finance and Local Government this afternoon, NMA chief executive Owen Meredith said: “The proposals in the Local Government Finance (Wales) Bill to remove the requirement for councils to publish council tax changes in local newspapers are dangerous and must be abandoned.

“Independent research and the Welsh government’s own impact assessment show that printed local newspapers are an essential platform for ensuring that the public – particularly the elderly, disenfranchised, those living in rural areas, and lower income households – have access to critical information that may have a profound impact upon their lives.

“The industry has also worked to leverage its strong growth in digital audiences with the launch of the Public Notice Portal in May this year.”

The NMA recently announced that the Public Notice Portal, designed to enhance local media’s coverage of public notices in print, has hit the milestone of one million pageviews.

Owen added: “The UK government in Westminster has publicly acknowledged the vital importance of local newspapers in communicating public notices and pledged to keep the requirement for councils to publish them in local papers. We now urge the Welsh government to stand up for transparency and accountability and do the same.”

Removing the requirement for local authorities to publish council tax details in local newspapers could reduce accessibility for older age groups. According to data from Digital Communities Wales cited in the impact assessment published with the Bill, only 41 per cent of people over 75 have basic digital skills.

And the move may have an impact on households in rural areas. Digital Communities Wales suggested that people living in rural areas can be excluded from digital services due to problems in broadband provision. People living in rural areas may therefore rely more on information about their council tax being provided as printed materials because they are less able to access information online.

Speaking in the debate this afternoon, Peredur Owen Griffiths MS asked the Minister: “Clause 20 talks about using digital-only to publicise council tax changes. Could you revisit the wording in that to make sure that publication is done in newspapers as well?”

The recent report by the Wales Public Interest Journalism Working Group, which included representatives from a wide range of publishers big and small, recognised that the publication of statutory notices in newspapers provides vital information to the community on a wide range of subjects, such as licensing applications, road closures and planning.  

At the same time, it noted that such notices provide a vital revenue stream for news publishers, supporting coverage of news, politics and current affairs and that some titles, would no longer be viable if public notices were removed.