Government must protect public notices in newspapers – editors

Locals look to have blown their chance with poorly targeted advertisement features

newspapers

By Democrat reporter

The Society of Editors is to add its voice to calls for the Westminster government to protect rulings that public notices must be carried in local newspapers.

The Government has announced a review of the current policy that states public announcements such as planning notices must be placed in regional newspapers by local authorities.

The ruling ensures the widest distribution of important information, says the SoE, and provides the best method for local councils and other bodies to enable citizens to be made aware of what is being proposed in their name.

“It is essential that public notices remain in local newspapers and on their websites to ensure the public’s right to know is fulfilled,” commented Ian Murray, executive director of the SoE.

“It would be absurd to argue that because local authorities and other public bodies can now place important notices on their own websites this makes them easily available to the public. Anyone who has ever tried to negotiate a local authority website will know it can be a minefield. Certainly, if someone wishes to hide away a proposal or unpopular activity this would be the way to do it.

“Placing public notices in plain view in a newspaper or on a news website is the most certain way to make sure it is seen by a wide audience.”

The government has launched its planning reform consultation following the release of the Planning for the Future white paper earlier this year.

The white paper says: “We need to modernise the day-to-day operation of the planning system. Residents should not have to rely on planning notices attached to lamp posts, printed in newspapers or posted in libraries.”

The paper suggests that more use should be made of digital methods of communication. However, the SoE fears this will diminish rather than expand the reach of notices.

Dumbarton, where newspapers have closed their offices. Picture by Craig Jump.

“The reason why advertisers place their advertisements next to news items is they understand not everyone realises they are seeking that information until it is placed before them.

“The same principle applies to public notices. To suggest that everyone who needs to know will download some form of local authority app or add a link to their social media account is frankly pie in the sky thinking,” added Murray.

“The present system works and while it can always be improved, removing the obligation to carry public notices in local newspapers and on news sites is not the answer.”

Despite regular representations for this to happen over a long number of years in Scotland, the devolved Scottish government has done little or nothing to halt the switch by councils away from local newspapers to the internet.

Consequently, local newspapers have been put under pressure and have closed offices and laid off staff.

It was only recently, with the advent of the pandemic and the realisation that it was important for public bodies – councils, health boards and so on – to communicate safety warnings that this service was important.

The Scottish government finance secretary Kate Forbes came up with a £3 million kitty for a campaign which was spread thinly over a short period among titles which carried advertisement features many of which contained political content, had not local relevance were roundly criticised by the reading public for space that would otherwise have been allocated to local news and features.

 

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