N.C. Press opposes what it calls 'anti-right to know' bill

If State Sen. Trudy Wade, R-Guilford, has her way, legal advertising will no longer be required in North Carolina newspapers. But Pamlico County's Norman Sanderson is working with others to offer another version that would still require those notices to appear in newsprint.

Wade’s S323 — the “Increase Teacher Supplement/Electronic Notice” bill — claims to “modernize publication of legal advertisements and notices” and “require internet web site publication of legal notices.” It does so in part by removing requirements for government to post legal advertising in newspapers. Instead, they would be allowed to advertise through online sites set up by the counties.

At a glance, the funds raised through such advertising by counties would go to a good cause – “with monies collected to be used for local supplements for teacher salary,” the bill notes, but adds, “and other county needs.”

Wade states that requiring legal notices to be published in local newspapers is the same thing as giving government subsidies to the press. Far better, she believes, if the advertising money went to the counties instead.

Among others, the North Carolina Press Association (NCPA) opposes the bill, calling it “the anti-right to know bill.”

The state press has an obvious dog in the fight, in as much as the bill’s passage could mean a loss of advertising revenue. However, the NCPA points out, the bill would allow government to be more secretive in its dealings by using channels that aren’t often accessed by the public to run its ads.

In a statement on its website, the NCPA argued, “The anti-right to know bill sponsored by Senator Wade, SB 343, is a repeat of the effort over the last several General Assembly sessions to effectively eliminate government notice advertising in newspapers by making newspaper publication optional for government agencies. As described by former Republican lawyer-House member Bonner Stiller, giving local governments the choice to suspend notice publication to the public in newspapers would 'create havoc' for free press rights every time a newspaper criticized the government.”

If the notices are placed only in government-run websites, the NCPA stated, much of the public would never see it.

Internet is not so easily available in some rural areas, and not everyone is able to, or chooses to use the internet. Newspaper readership – in print and online – is far higher, according to the NCPA.

Sanderson’s bill, S435, titled “Internet Publication of Legal Notices,” meanwhile, would continue to require advertising in newspapers, but also would require government notices to run on their own websites. To save the government money, it also requires a 15 percent cost reduction for publication of any notices that appear more than once.

The compromise bill was filed on Tuesday and referred to the Committee on Rules and Operations on Wednesday. An identical bill, sponsored by Stephen R. Ross of Alamance, has been filed in the House.

Contact Bill Hand at Bill.hand@newbernsj.com, 252-635-5677, and follow him @BillHandNBSJ.