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NUJ campaign success for newspapers in Wales

5 July 2012

The Welsh Government has pulled back from plans to relieve public bodies of the obligation to advertise road traffic notices in newspapers. The NUJ was at the forefront of the successful campaign that influenced their decision.

Newspaper companies in Wales receive revenue worth more than £1m a year from the ads. There were fears that losing the money would lead to more title closures and job cuts.

In its submission to the Welsh Government's consultation exercise on the proposal, the NUJ said:

"The current obligation on public bodies to advertise traffic orders in newspapers recognises the public good that the Press performs in providing public information. We have no doubt this still holds true, despite the decline in newspaper circulations of recent years.
"The Welsh Government's proposal would relieve public bodies of a statutory obligation to publish information in a significant, long-standing and recognised medium without establishing a new, similarly tightly drawn obligation to ensure the information was conveyed adequately by alternative means. Instead, the consultation document makes it clear that public bodies would be able to choose themselves how they publicised traffic orders.
"At a time of severe public spending cuts, we believe the temptation for public bodies to severely cut the provision of such information would be irresistible. The suggestion that social networking sites could provide a suitable alternative means of reaching large numbers of people is wildly speculative. Those people who use social networking sites do so predominantly to contact and interact with friends, not to seek information about traffic orders.
"The idea that people will find out about Traffic Orders from council websites is far-fetched. It is a fact that a significant proportion of Welsh households remains without an internet connection (39% have no broadband connection according to Ofcom's Communications Market Report Wales 2011, with significant demographic variations such as only 48% of over-55s, 55% of those in the DE social class, and 56% of those with a household income of less than £17,500 having a broadband connection).
"Whether this lack of online engagement is by choice, because it is too expensive, or because of technical difficulties, it is fanciful to expect the great majority of people to monitor official websites to check that a Traffic Order of relevance to them may turn up.
"The same applies to local news websites, few of which achieve a significant reach. By contrast, the way people browse newspapers is ideally suited to reaching an audience with information that they would not be seeking pro-actively.
"Any move to replace a specific statutory obligation with anything less tangible will result in a serious decline in the reach of the information, with a consequential loss of public engagement that will damage the social fabric of Welsh communities.
"We believe the Welsh Government could find itself in breach of the Aarhus Convention, which not only gives citizens the right of access to information relating to environmental matters, including traffic and mobility, but places a legal obligation on public bodies to actively provide such information to those who may be affected.
"The proposal also gravely concerns us because of the devastating impact the loss of advertising revenue would have on the Welsh newspaper industry. We find it quite extraordinary that despite evidence given recently by the NUJ and others to the National Assembly's Task and Finish Group inquiry into the future outlook for the media in Wales, this proposal should have been made.
"As a direct consequence of the loss of advertising revenues from the public and private sectors, 33 journalists lost their jobs at Media Wales alone last year. Further job losses were sustained in other departments and at other newspaper companies.
"There is no doubt that if public bodies are relieved of the obligation to advertise Traffic Orders in newspapers, many more jobs will be lost and the survival of some titles will be placed in jeopardy. We cannot emphasise too strongly the impact this would have on Welsh democracy."

The campaign was unanimously backed by the trade union movement in Wales, with delegates at the Welsh TUC conference unanimously calling on the Welsh Government to abandon the plans.

Martin Shipton, FoC of the NUJ's Media Wales chapel covering the Western Mail, the South Wales Echo, Wales on Sunday and the Celtic series of weekly papers, said:

"We are very pleased with the Welsh Government's decision to scrap this proposal, which would have had a devastating blow on newspapers in Wales at a time when the industry is struggling for survival.
"Many chapel members as well as other members of staff signed individual letters opposing the plan that were submitted as part of the Government's formal consultation process. This was coordinated by NUJ reps and we have no doubt played a significant part in changing the Government's mind.
"We wish our colleagues in England well as they fight a similar battle."

Mike Smith, NUJ NEC and Wales TUC General Council member, said:

"This success also demonstrates the importance of working closely with fellow trade unionists on shared concerns."

Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ General Secretary said:

"This is good news for journalists and the communities they serve. The decision shows that campaigning can work and we hope the English authorities scrap the proposal too."

Tags: , newspapers, funding, councils, advertising, regional newspapers, western mail, south wales echo, wales on sunday, celtic series, media wales, local newspapers, government wales