The National Union of Journalists says plans to deprive local newspapers from carrying public notices will push the industry to the brink

Members of the Senedd have been urged by the National Union of Journalists to scrap a clause in the Local Government Finance (Wales) Bill which would push the newspaper industry, already on the brink of collapse, over the edge.

 Clause 20 of the bill ends the requirement that local authorities advertise changes to council tax in local newspapers and allow them simply to make an announcement on their council websites, depriving newspapers from a vital source of revenue.

 The letter from Nick Powell, chair of the Welsh Executive Council, says: “This proposed legislative change threatens not only to diminish the availability of important information to the public but also to deprive local newspapers of an important income stream at a time when they are already under severe financial pressure. It would also send a potentially disastrous signal that far from taking action to address the fragility of local media in Wales, the Welsh Government, with the support of the Senedd, is prepared to push over the edge an industry already on the brink of collapse.”

The letter also notes that the Senedd has failed to respond to the Welsh Government’s Public Interest Journalism Working Group’s report Of and for Wales: towards a sustainable future for public interest which sets out a series of proposals in response to the crisis in the Welsh newspaper industry and its ability to carry out its democratic function.

The report called on the Government to “audit the spend from the public sector on public notices, as well as evaluating their impact”. It proposed “a conversation with the journalism industry to reform eligibility criteria for statutory public notices, as well as the distribution mechanism, with time built in to allow news providers to adjust to any changes, which should be executed carefully and gradually and signposted well in advance”.

A letter has also been sent by editors from the Reach newspaper group which said: “If the Welsh Government’s intention is to move away from requiring public bodies to place statutory public notices in newspapers, it risks causing a devastating impact on news reporting in Wales at a time when the industry needs support. For Reach, which publishes WalesOnline, North Wales Live, four daily print titles (the Western Mail, Daily Post, South Wales Echo, South Wales Evening Post) as well as Wales on Sunday and many weekly titles serving communities across Wales, any threat to such a vital source of income would have a direct, devastating impact on our editorial operations and our titles serving communities in Wales. It increases the risk of titles closing, news provision in Wales being further hollowed out and more journalists who have dedicated their working lives to reporting in Wales being put out of work.”