A plan by the Welsh Government to remove the obligation on councils to advertise traffic orders in local newspapers risks ‘imperilling the future” of the Welsh press and has been condemned by politicians.
The proposal comes amid an ongoing inquiry into the state of the Welsh media following a series of newspaper closures and widespread job losses.
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Transport minister Carl Sargeant has launched a formal consultation on the proposal, which would see the money saved used to fund free blue parking badges for disabled people.
Ken Smith, the chairman of the NUJ in Wales, said the proposal was ‘wholly wrong and potentially divisive”.
‘We are supportive of the idea of helping disabled people in the way suggested, but there must be better ways of funding such a scheme.
‘It is astonishing that this proposal is being made at a time when a formal inquiry is taking place at the National Assembly into the fragile state of the Welsh newspaper industry.
‘As one group of AMs debates the possibility of future public funding for newspapers, the Welsh Government is considering depriving them of a vital source of revenue.
‘If local authorities are no longer obliged to advertise traffic orders in newspapers and the revenue is lost, it will be a very serious blow. The union has no doubt that if this is allowed to happen, jobs will be lost and the survival of titles put in doubt.
‘Imperilling the future of Welsh newspapers will make it more difficult to achieve the kind of well-informed society we want in Wales.
‘If more media outlets are lost due to this proposal, then it will make it ever more difficult for the Welsh Government and Assembly to promote potentially positive measures such as funding free blue badge parking. We urge AMs from all parties to oppose this move.”
Labour AM Ken Skates, who is chairing the National Assembly inquiry into the media, told the Western Mail: ‘I welcome the move to support disabled people in Wales, but I do have concerns about the impact these initial proposals could have on our fragile media in Wales.
‘Adverts and traffic orders are an important source of funding for many local papers and as we have seen through the recent work of the Media Task and Finish Group, they play a vital role in helping sustain important newspaper titles right across Wales.
Shadow Transport Minister Byron Davies added: ‘This raises serious questions about how local authorities will, in times of austerity, keep local communities informed about forthcoming traffic changes in their area.
‘We now need to learn what assessment the Minister made of the financial impact this move will have on the Welsh newspaper industry, which is already under considerable pressure.”
Plaid Cymru Heritage spokeswoman Bethan Jenkins said: ‘I know the Welsh Government is not obliged to support media organisations, but it could and most likely would lead to the redundancy of skilled workers who contribute to the Welsh economy.”
The proposal has also been condemned by Welsh Liberal Democrats’ transport spokeswoman Eluned Parrott
‘While I support the aims of the Minister, I am concerned that the impact of this proposal hasn’t been clearly thought out,’she said.
‘Firstly, people have a right to know what is going on in their community and their local papers are often the most accessible source of that information.
‘Secondly, many local newspapers across Wales are under threat given the drop in revenue from advertising.
‘A further cut in advertising revenue could be a final blow for many of our local newspapers. That would have a serious and negative impact on democracy, transparency and accountability.”