‘A crucial service’

July 12, 2018

Amid all the talk in recent weeks over tariffs, little attention has been given to the fact that since March a tariff of up to 30 percent on Canadian uncoated paper has raised the price of newsprint significantly.

The relatively little attention is understandable given how other tariffs are impacting agriculture, the steel industry and many others. Newspapers traditionally place the focus on others, not themselves.

A hearing is set before the U.S. International Trade Commission later this month on the issue. Our hope is that the tariff is rescinded because it seems to benefit just one company — the North Pacific Paper Co. based in Washington — while penalizing publishers, printers and the many companies that supply them with materials, parts and services. There is a difference between enforcing clear trade rules that protect all Americans and lurching into piecemeal imposition of tariffs to benefit individual companies.

It’s significant to note that among all U.S. paper producers, the Washington company is conspicuously alone in its petition for protective tariffs. The trade group that represents paper mills, the American Forest and Paper Association, opposes the tariffs, as do scores of newspapers, book publishers and printers around the country.

With this particular tariff, there is perhaps a bigger issue than taxes and profitability. Steve Forbes, chairman of Forbes Media, recently verbalized it well in a column he wrote for The Wall Street Journal in which he expressed concern about the impact the tariff could have — if it stands — on the nation’s free press.

“It is local newspapers, not cable news networks, that scrutinize the goings-on at town halls, and how tax dollars are spent on schools and public works. Local papers are indispensable in uncovering corruption in government. For many people of modest means or who live in rural areas, these papers are the top source of community news and information,” he wrote.

“America’s Founders cherished the free press, recognizing its essential role in democracy. They held that if citizens couldn’t read about vital issues, consider various points of view, and evaluate the performance of public servants, democracy wouldn’t succeed.

“Amid today’s abundance of information sources, local newspapers haven’t become obsolete. Rather, they are offering a crucial service,” he added.

While the government has no responsibility to safeguard newspapers from market forces, it shouldn’t hasten their demise by shielding a single company from market forces.

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