Saskatchewan Weekly Newspapers Association President Terry Jenson of the Clark’s Crossing Gazette, made the following comments to the SWNA membership about upcoming Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities resolutions that will be presented at the SARM Annual Convention on March 13 through 16. The resolutions of concern suggest “newspapers are going out of business and are read less by the general public” and that “newspapers are no longer available in all municipalities,” prompting two RMs to call for the end of the requirement to advertise elections and other public notices in their local newspapers.
“This is a very concerning development coming from a couple of rural municipalities. While there have been some closures over the past couple of years, the fact remains that existing community newspapers have filled those voids and continue to cover the news and serve the vast majority of our province. Readership remains strong – as our readership data will show – as community newspapers are truly the only source of trusted local information that citizens cannot get from any other news source.
“It is ironic that SARM’s mandate is to ensure rural sustainability through local government yet if this proposal is endorsed at the SARM convention, it will possibly alter the way public notices are disseminated and run counter-intuitive to SARM’s mandate of rural sustainability through government for the people it serves. If adopted at the provincial level, this legislation will cost jobs in primarily rural communities across the province. These two resolutions will have unintended consequences to many rural newspapers to the point where it could force more consolidations or closures. Aside from acting as a watchdog over local government for its residents, the disappearance of a community’s newspaper results in the community losing its voice and opens the door to government business that goes largely unsupervised and unreported at all levels. Rural residents should be extremely concerned about the prospects of government activities not being made as transparent as possible.
“People lead lives that are busier than they have ever been. Community newspapers are not only a trusted source of locally sourced information, but they also have a long shelf life so if a reader doesn’t have time to read it when it arrives, it will be on the kitchen table or in the living room for the next week until the next one is published. This gives our readers time to consume the information and make decisions that best suit their interests and needs. If SARM members agree with these resolutions, it will mean residents will be even busier sorting through additional emails or spend additional time scouring websites looking for legal and public notices. If anything, rural residents should be opposed to more government being intrusive into their daily lives.
“I, as a publisher of a newspaper that serves nine rural municipalities, will be calling and/or writing to each Reeve and councillor of them all. I will be pointing out to them our role in the continued health of the municipality and on the importance of properly exposing public notice to the citizens that reside within it. Also, I will be reminding my public of how necessary it is that those public notices remain out in the public arena, open, transparent and archivable. I encourage all other newspapers to do the same.”
SWNA Executive Director, Steve Nixon, added, “I take a particular issue in the claim made in resolution 21-18A where they say that newspapers are going out of business and are read less by the general public. This is simply untrue and not backed at all with any supporting data. We did have some closures when the Moose Jaw Times Herald ceased operations but the impact on our ability towards servicing the RMs in Saskatchewan is minimal. There are very few rural municipalities in Saskatchewan that do not have a newspaper of record. Many are serviced by multiple titles.”
Nixon stated, “that although elected officials may not always like being watched by the public and may well like to have less accountability, it is essential for protection of local democracy that the system of open transparency, especially with public monies, be diminished in any way. There is a reason this role was given to newspapers and that is not only because of the easy access and availability they provide, but also because of the fact that newspapers are archived so that unadulterated access to original content is preserved.”
Nixon claims that the SWNA will be lobbying the provincial government against SARM and will be aiming for no changes to the Rural Municipality Act concerning the dissemination of public notices.
Following are the resolutions of concern:
20 -18A Nomination Call Advertising
RM of Laurier No. 38
WHEREAS section 9(2)(a) of The Local Government Election Act requires the posting of a notice in the case of an election of members of council in at least one issue or more newspapers having general circulation in the municipality;
WHEREAS newspapers are going out of business and are read less by the general public;
BE IT RESOLVED that SARM lobby the provincial government to amend The Local
Government Election Act to allow municipalities the option to post their election notices in any print media or a municipal website serving the municipal area.
21 - 18A Modernizing Public Notice Requirements
RM of Lumsden No. 189
WHEREAS most public notices are required to be published in a newspaper published and/or circulating in the municipality;
WHEREAS newspapers are no longer available in all municipalities and advertising in the closest publication is unlikely to reach the target audience;
BE IT RESOLVED that SARM lobby the provincial government to review public notice requirements and expand the methods of communicating with our ratepayers;
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that consideration be given to permitting the use of unaddressed admail, municipal websites, email, text messaging and/or creating a website, similar to SaskTenders.ca, on which municipalities can post public notices.