Provincial bill will hurt community newspapers

By Tim Shoults, Vice President, Content and Audience Development, Glacier Media Group

Edgar Allen Poe wrote in The Purloined Letter: “The best place to hide is in plain sight.”

Sadly, Saskatchewan’s municipal governments appear to be taking that to heart – and the province might just let them get away with it.

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The provincial government is now studying a bill to change the law which currently requires municipal and regional governments to advertise public notices in a newspaper.

Those public notices can have major impacts on your lives. They let you know if your neighbor will be allowed to open a business on your street that impacts you, or if your town council will be making decisions that cost you tax dollars.

Why is the government considering this? It’s in response to a demand from the Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association (SUMA) and the Saskatchewan Association of Regional Municipalities (SARM), which represent the province’s local governments.

They claim it’s to “create administrative efficiencies” and to ensure public notices get to areas in the province that are not covered by a newspaper.

There’s one problem with that argument: there are no such areas. Every municipality or regional district in Saskatchewan has access to at least one community or daily newspaper.

The real effect of this law is that municipalities would have the option of publishing public notices in their local newspaper or publishing them on their own municipal websites.

Have you ever looked for a public notice on a municipal website?

What will happen? Public notices that the government wants the public to actually know about – ones that put them in a good light – will probably be advertised. Those that they don’t want you to know about will be “advertised” on their websites – hidden, as we said, in plain sight.

Without these public notices appearing in your community newspaper, two things will happen. You will be less informed about things that directly affect you, and community newspapers in Saskatchewan will close.

That’s because public notices are a significant source of revenue for many community newspapers. In some cases, that revenue represents the difference between a paper being a viable business or not.

And with local newspapers closing, you will be less informed than ever before.

Social media and the internet are great for some kinds of news. But when you get to a certain size of community, the only information source is your community newspaper.

Good governance depends on a well-informed public – and a well-informed public needs viable local media.

Please speak to your local MLA and let them know that when it comes to being informed by your local government, you want to read it here – not have it hidden.