After reading the editorial in the News & Recordon Wednesday, August 2, about House Bill 205 – to open public notice and legal advertising to the free market system, which was passed by the legislature and vetoed by Gov. Roy Cooper – I had to pull out my Constitution and read the First Amendment a couple of times to make sure I hadn’t forgotten a passage.
The editorial begins, “We want to thank Gov. Roy Cooper for protecting the First Amendment rights of Guilford County newspapers – and by extension, the county’s citizens – by vetoing House Bill 205.”
The News & Recordmust be talking about some other First Amendment because the First Amendment of the US Constitution has nothing in it about guaranteeing paid-circulation newspapers a monopoly on publishing public notices and legal advertising.
The implication that eliminating a monopoly on public notices and legal advertising for paid circulation newspapers is somehow an infringement of freedom on the press is dishonest at best.
The First Amendment gives Americans the right to publish a newspaper; it doesn’t say that the government will fund it.
Further along, the editorial writer gets to the meat of the subject. This is all about money, not freedom of the press.
The News & Recordand every other newspaper that has been feeding at the public trough because of a state mandated monopoly on public notice and legal advertising will still be just as free to publish whatever they desire if HB205 becomes law. The difference is that the taxpayers won’t be forced to help pay for it whether they agree with the newspaper or not.
HB205 does not preclude governments from placing their public notices in newspapers. If Greensboro or Guilford County choose to continue to pay exorbitant rates to have public notices placed in the News & Record, they are free to do so. What the law would do is open public notice and legal advertising to the free market, and this is what the N&Ris arguing will infringe on freedom of the press.
The News & Recordargues that more people have the opportunity to see public notices when they are placed in paid-circulation newspapers rather than on the Guilford County website. But currently, some public notices and legal advertising, which is supposed to be available to all the people of Guilford County, is placed in the Jamestown News.
How many of you have seen a copy of the Jamestown Newsin the past 10 years? How many people even know where they could buy a copy? It is one of the absurdities of the current law that the N&Rand Cooper are supporting that the Jamestown Newsmeets the state mandated criteria for public notices and legal advertising in Guilford County.
The law that gave paid-circulation newspapers a monopoly on this state-mandated advertising is seriously outdated in today’s world where there are so many new publication formats.
The question people should be asking is why are paid circulation newspapers so scared of a little competition. If they want to continue to sell public notice and legal advertising, all they have to do is lower their rates so that they are competitive.
No one who has a monopoly wants to give it up, and it’s no surprise that newspapers like the N&R, who have benefited from this state-mandated monopoly for decades, are fighting it tooth and nail.
But something that is rarely mentioned by those newspapers is that both the North Carolina League of Municipalities and the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners support the bill, and it’s easy to see why.
The bill sets up a pilot program in Guilford County to test the process of placing public notices and legal advertising on a county website, and the revenue that the county collects for this advertising will be evenly split between Guilford County and the Guilford County Schools.
So instead of the money paid for legal advertising in Guilford County going to the N&R and a billionaire in Omaha, Nebraska, it will go to Guilford County to benefit the people and the children of Guilford County.
If HB205 were about eliminating any other monopoly other than one that benefitted paid circulation newspapers, the N&R would be all for it. But because it is hitting them in the pocket book, it is called a violation of their First Amendment rights.
As a free circulation newspaper, the Rhino Timesdoesn’t meet the state-mandated requirements to run public notices or legal advertising, so it won’t cost us a dime if the state legislature overrides Cooper’s veto. But if HB 205 does become law then a path for the Rhinoto be eligible for public notices and paid circulation advertising becomes available.
We welcome the opportunity to enter into the free market and compete with everyone else, including Guilford County, for the advertising.
Let the lowest rates win.