Friday, February 4, 2011

Broadcasters want to share legal ad revenue

Sen. David Ulibarri
Online technology is driving a proposal in this year's legislature which could authorize state broadcasters to publish legal ads and notices on their websites -- but not everyone is sure it’s a good idea.

State law currently only permits the legal material to be published in newspapers.

Sen. David Ulibarri, D-Grants, is carrying SB147 for the New Mexico Broadcasters Association’s new NM Legal Notices service.

NMBA President Paula Maes says her organization was asked by various municipalities to provide an alternative posting site for legal notices, because of declining newspaper circulations, and the fact that some rural newspapers only publish once a week.

The state’s open meeting act requires agendas be posted at least 24 hours before an official meeting, so supporter's of the measure suggest that government entities need an alternative posting site.

“With our site, people in towns like Taos, will be able to find their school board meeting agendas online,” Maes said.

“The Journal’s circulation is down 21 percent, and, people have to buy subscriptions to read the legal ads. This leaves many people in the dark,” Maes said. “Checking notices on a broadcaster’s site will be free.”

According to Maes, broadcasters in Illinois have already started publishing the legal ads on their website, and states like Rhode Island and Maine are watching what happens in Santa Fe this month before they roll out similar programs.

Maes said NM Legal Notices would charge about the same rate as newspapers and any money raised will be used to fund high school scholarships and intern programs.

While newspaper sales executives may be resisting the measure because it will dampen their ad revenues, a special interest group is opposing the alternative site claiming it will “keep the public in the dark.”

Conservation Voters of New Mexico insists legal ads and notices be published in community newspapers.

In a news release the group wrote:
This change would mean that New Mexicans would no longer be able to learn about government notices or issues that may affect their community by reading the local paper. Any notice of hearings for permitting dairy farms, power plants, regulatory hearings, or many other issues would no longer be published in the affected communities. Residents would need to seek out this information on the internet.
The NMBA counters that assertion and claims radio stations in small towns will be able to publish the ads more quickly on their website and residents won’t have to wait for a weekly or bi-weekly newspaper to be published.

Citadel New Mexico General Manager Milt McConnell says the majority of people in his audience get their information online. And, he wants public information to be publicly available on the internet.

“We believe it is past time to be able to have municipalities, school districts, county commissions etc to post their public notices on and have the electronic media be able to drive the message home,” McConnell, who oversees 770KKOB News Radio, said.

Both McConnell and Maes believe placing ads exclusively in print is not the answer going forward and say now is the time to insure an alternative delivery system.

For years broadcasters have aired free public service announcements, or PSA's, and worked closely with state and federal government agencies to disseminate valuable information to the public.

Opponents don't like the bill because they say 32 percent of residents have no access to the internet.

Members of the Senate Corporations Committee will consider the measure today at 2p in Santa Fe.

Disclosure: This reporter has worked for various broadcast outlets since 1980, including: Citadel Broadcasting, Hearst Television Inc, Hubbard Broadcasting and American General media.

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Leanne Leith said...

I would like to correct some misleading (and factually incorrect) information in the above article. The article seems to imply that the proposed legislation is intended to increase the potential for New Mexicans to access legal notices. If that were the case, then the bill would ADD internet posting as a second requirement--not eliminate newspapers as a requirement. Conservation Voters New Mexico would certainly (and aggressively) support internet posting as an additional requirement, and we agree that many New Mexicans access their information that way. However, to prevent more than 42% of New Mexicans from accessing these important notices (the number in the article is incorrect), would be a travesty.

The information on New Mexicans' access to the internet is from census data cited in a New Mexico Independent article:

And the situation is actually worse than described above: of New Mexicans who have access to the internet, only 61% have access to it at home. This means that the proposed legislation could prevent 65% of New Mexicans from accessing legal notices from their home.

The article also fails to mention that most larger, and many smaller, newspapers already post their legal notices online--as part of their routine posting of classified ads. So in many places, the information is already online (although we agree that it should be available online everywhere). But the result of this measure is simply that fewer New Mexicans will be able to access critical hearing notices... (hardly surprising given that the sponsor has publicly complained about lengthy hearing processes--you know, the ones where the public gets to weigh in on what's happening in their community and state).

I also think it's an interesting use of the descriptor "special interest group" to apply it to an organization trying to ensure that the maximum number of New Mexicans have access to information about what is happening in their community, while not applying that term to a business entity that simply wants to access revenue from legal notices.

Disclaimer: I am the Political and Programs Director at Conservation Voters New Mexico.

Leanne Leith said...

Two additional points:

The article states: "State law currently only permits the legal material to be published in newspapers."

This is totally incorrect. State law only REQUIRES the legal material to be published in newspapers, but it permits it to be posted anywhere (of course).

Furthermore, the legislation only requires that the information be archived for five years. This is problematic because publication in newspapers creates a permanent record that can be accessed in perpetuity. Why limit internet archiving to five years?

Max said...

The way I understand this is newspapers can still post announcememts in their paper and broacasters can do segments with announcements on radio on the internet. As time goes by many newspapers will be ONLY on the internet. In small towns they have cut back from dailys to one or two issues a week. Max Sklower