Senedd Members urged to stop a devastating attack on the media in Wales

Vaughan Gething being interviewed by WalesOnline's political editor Ruth Mosalski
-Credit: (Image: John Myers)

WalesOnline and Wales' daily newspapers today join forces to call on Senedd Members to stop a devastating attack on news in our nation.

Tomorrow, Tuesday, they will vote on a bill that would lift the requirement on councils to publish externally notices of council tax changes in a local newspaper. This is just one of a number of things of which public bodies in Wales are required to make the public aware through advertising in a newspaper.

Wales' Older People's Commissioner, the National Union of Journalists and the publishers of Wales' newspapers are among the organisations that have urged the Welsh Government to step back and think again.

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This advertising is both an important way of informing the public about changes that affect them and a vital source of income for the media in Wales at a time there needs to be more support for reporting on communities and our nation's current affairs.

There have been calls to look again at whether these requirements need updating given how the internet has changed how people access and consume news - while recognising that not everyone is online.

However the Welsh Government's plan would not achieve this. It is simply a cost-cutting measure that would be a damaging backward step in terms of public access to information and put a vital part of the journalism industry in Wales at risk.

There was no proper consultation with the industry before this clause in the The Local Government Finance Bill was proposed and no attempt to understand the wide-ranging impact that it will have on a part of our public life that needs support.

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Tomorrow, Tuesday, the Senedd will have a chance to put the brakes on this and send the Welsh Government back to look at it again. Senedd Members will vote on an amendment by Conservative MS Peter Fox to strike out the clause on council tax notices.

Wales' daily newspapers are joining forces to call on them to show their support for public access for information, for scrutiny and for journalism by voting for the amendment and removing clause 20 of the bill.

In a letter to Senedd Members, Nick Powell, chair of the Welsh executive council of the NUJ, 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 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."

Wales' older people's commissioner, Heléna Herklots CBE, said: “In the past, legislation has been used to make information and services more accessible, to help enable more people to access them, to help tackle the barriers that leave people excluded.

"But these proposals, offered with no detail about what suitable alternative arrangements mean – suggesting little thought has been given to those who could be affected by the changes – risk having the opposite effect.

"That’s why, the requirement to publish council tax notices in local newspapers should be retained, and the proposals to remove this should be removed from the Bill currently making its way through the Senedd.”

Owen Meredith, chief executive of the news media association, said: “It is not too late for the Welsh government and Members of the Senedd to change course and save Welsh journalism.

"We urge both the Welsh government and Members of the Senedd from all parties to stand up for transparency and Welsh journalism by backing this amendment tomorrow. Otherwise, journalism and democratic accountability could suffer irreparable harm. And for all of us who believe in a robust and vibrant democracy, that would be an unacceptable outcome.”