Govt rolls back rules for community papers

Photo: RNZ
Photo: RNZ
The Government has revised last week's sudden suspension of the printing and distribution of community newspapers during the Covid-19 lockdown.

Broadcasting, communications and digital media minister Kris Faafoi. Photo: ODT files
Broadcasting, communications and digital media minister Kris Faafoi. Photo: ODT files
Publishers had protested it might leave people without local news at a crucial time and would hurt their businesses. But other publications - including magazines - remain 'non-essential'.

The move was revealed by Prime Minster Jacinda Ardern in her daily news conference yesterday.

Last Friday night, the Ministry of Culture and Heritage told publishers non-daily publications were not an 'essential service' during the lockdown, effectively shutting down magazines like The Listener and North & South and community papers across the country.

The ministry was prompted by fears the virus could be transmitted by deliverers or expose them to risk. 

Regional papers that deliver daily were exempt, while some larger weekly papers like The Sunday Star-Times, The Weekend Herald, and the Herald On Sunday - which are allied to daily paper production - would also continue to print.

Major paper publishers Stuff and NZME have been assuring readers their deliveries are safe.

Otago Daily Times publisher Allied Press pointed to World Health Organisation advice that "the risk of catching the virus that causes Covid-19 from a delivery like a newspaper is low."

PrintNZ general manager Ruth Cobb said New Zealand’s daily papers often fail to provide news that’s relevant to specific regions, and local publishers were just as capable of observing the necessary safety measures.  

The rules have now changed to cover news publications that:

  • serve a need for hard to reach rural communities, with reduced connectivity,
  • and/or serve non-English speaking communities,
  • and have appropriate health and safety measures to minimise the spread of Covid-19 during production and delivery.

The minister of broadcasting, communications and digital media, Kris Faafoi, said the change "to include community news publications which can meet certain criteria" recognised the needs of "New Zealanders who might be harder to reach having access to news publications."

“Where community media content can be provided by other means, such as online, we ask them to focus on those modes of publication during the heightened Covid-19 Alert," he said in a statement.

When asked about media companies "operating on the line of viability right now" in her press briefing yesterday, Ardern said there had been no meetings between the Government and news media management yet. She stressed that the wage subsidy scheme is available to them.

Yesterday, media company NZME told its staff that job cuts were coming.

“The Government recognises that these were already difficult times for traditional media across the sector, even before Covid-19 hit, and that restrictions which remain in place for other publications, such as non-daily magazines, are adding to their financial challenges," Faafoi said in his statement. 

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