As country communities continue to feel the effects of the closures of corporate newspapers, the NSW government has again changed the way the public can access important information.

Water access notices are the latest casualty in a long line of public information which is no longer required to be published in a newspaper.

In a twist of cruel irony, the notice advising of the change was published in the Gunnedah Times’ sister newspaper, The Courier, and other country publications throughout NSW.

Instead, government agencies will publish the details from these advertisements online despite the fact that the communities which rely on that information turn to their local newspaper for such details.

It follows the government’s amendment of a law in 2020 that saw councils no longer required to publish notices in local newspapers.

The Gunnedah Times is fortunate that Gunnedah Shire Council has opted not to take up that opportunity and continues to run regular council news advertisements in addition to important community notices in the newspaper.

The change in the way that government information is relayed to rural areas has long been a sore point for publishers which pride themselves on providing communities with 
relevant, important information.

This change in government advertising also impacts publishers’ advertising revenue – an income stream which is vital for newspapers to employ local staff, operate local offices and fully engage with the communities they serve.

State newspaper body Country Press NSW, an organisation of which the Gunnedah Times is a member, has continued to advocate for the need for governments at all levels, and their respective agencies, to return to informing country communities of important information and programs through advertisements in local newspapers.

But the issue of the change in government advertising extends well beyond the revenue it generates for country newspapers.

It’s a striking blow to government transparency. 

Burying important details from government departments and agencies is an enormous backward step for a government which purports to be open and transparent. 

Putting a public notice in a local newspaper puts this important information in front of thousands of people. 

What’s more, once published it’s there forever and cannot be deleted, updated, edited or archived as can easily occur on websites.

Last year, Deakin University released results from a nation-wide survey which sought the public’s view on local newspapers.

A key finding from the study showed there is continued strong demand for the printed version of a local newspaper.

The study also found audiences overwhelmingly view a printed copy of their newspaper as an essential service for their community.

Ninety-four per cent of respondents said they should be invited to have a say about government policies and decisions affecting the future of local newspapers.

The findings from that study reaffirmed what independent publishers already knew – country communities turn to their local newspaper for vital information.

Now the government needs to heed these survey findings, and the calls to keep country communities informed using print media, by reversing decisions which see newspapers stripped of vital public information and advertising revenue.

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