It is now up to local councils if they want to advertise their weekly notices in printed newspapers, following an instruction given by the NSW Government’s Office of Local Government (OLG).
The OLG has quietly made the changes under the cover of its “modification of statutory requirements in response to the COVID-19 pandemic”.
The OLG put it this way in its April 17 circular to NSW councils: “…in response to the closure of some local newspapers and to assist councils to reduce their costs, the Local Government (General) Regulation 2005 (the Regulation) has been amended to remove requirements for newspaper advertising.
“This amendment is not temporary and will continue to apply after the COVID-19 pandemic passes.”
The permanent change to advertising regulations was contained within a raft of other changes made to the “regulations … under section 747B of the Local Government Act 1993 to temporarily modify the application of the Act in response to the COVID‑19 pandemic”, the circular states.
Meanwhile, the Victorian Government is taking a different tack, investing $4.7million to “book one page of print and digital advertising in more than 100 regional news outlets each week for six months”, says Professor Allan Fells AO in a Public Interest Journalism Initiative (PIJI) media release.
“It is a commendable move that will contribute in the short-term to easing the cash crisis in public interest journalism, made acute by the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The Independent spoke with CVC’s general manager, Ashley Lindsay.
Mr Lindsay said that the council will “need to review our position regarding the advertising of statutory information”.
The OLG’s circular also stated: “To alleviate the red tape burden on councils and to reduce their costs … councils are now instead required to publish notices on their websites and in such other manner that they consider necessary to bring it to the notice of the local community or other interested persons.”
When asked for his thoughts on the above quote, Mr Lindsay said ensuring that all people across the valley had the opportunity to access the information was a key consideration.
“…not all people have access to digital media and we have to make a conscious decision to ensure everybody is informed,” he said.
“One of the key things with that: are we reaching the broader community by just putting it on the website?
“We’ll need to make conscious decision: if we decide to stick with just website information and Facebook; is that enough to get the message out to the community?”
It’s likely that the subject will have to be resolved before CVC’s 2020/21 budget and operational plans are adopted – the draft version will be tabled at the CVC meeting on Tuesday March 28.
Mr Lindsay said he had not yet “considered the matter in the full context of the implications”.
“It hasn’t been raised formally by any councillors that I am aware of,” he said.
“But … if there are changes to the budget, we’ll need to involve the councillors in the decision-making process.”
The Independent also spoke with Mr Fels regarding his media release – in which he says “the Victorian Government’s plan is not a magic bullet, but it will certainly go some way towards ensuring that we have something to save when the threat of COVID-19 is no longer hanging over our heads” – and told him about the OLG’s changes to the NSW advertising regulation.
“NSW should look at what Victoria is doing,” he said.
“In this fast moving world circumstances have changed since the bushfires; it’s had a heavy detrimental effect on local newspapers.
“PIJI is highly concerned at the fast closing down rate of regional and rural newspapers.
“They play an essential role in the community through informing the community of local matters, holding local councils to account, reporting court matters and other public interest matters
“It’s important we do everything we can to keep them alive.
“They are already suffering from the longer-term impact of the internet, which has caused much advertising to migrate away from local newspapers.
“In that context we support action at national and state level – and even at local council level – to keep local newspapers [viable].
“We have been urging commonwealth and state governments to spend more on advertising in newspapers as an interim action to help keep newspapers afloat.
“I’m somewhat concerned about local councils cutting back on newspaper advertising at this moment.
“It’s not a good direction to be heading in.”
NOTE: The Public Interest Journalism Initiative has been calling on all levels of government to inject $100 million in public service advertising, focussed on regional and local news, as well as the temporary introduction of tax deductibility for news subscriptions during this pandemic.