Senators urge federal financial support for rural media

FILE PHOTO - Radio studio

SALT LAKE CITY – Mitt Romney and 49 other U.S. Senators have called on the federal government to provide financial support to rural media outlets during the ongoing Coronavirus outbreak.

In an April 23 letter to Russell T. Vought, the acting director of the US. Office of Management and Budget, the senators advocated directing existing federal advertising funds to support local radio and television broadcasters, as well as newspapers.

The letter highlighted the financial challenges facing local newspapers and broadcasters due to declining advertising revenue as a result of the current economic shutdown. Financial support from the federal government is now particularly appropriate, the senators said, because those media outlets play an integral role in keeping their communities informed of news relating to the Coronavirus pandemic.

“Our radio and television broadcasters and rural newspapers provide local and national news, emergency alerts, educational programs and more to all corners of the United States,” the senators wrote. “In many rural areas, broadcast stations are the predominant or only form of local information. It is important that local media are able to continue to provide their services during the (Coronavirus) pandemic so that Americans are able to stay up-to-date with the latest news and information.”

According to the 2010 Census, about 60 million Americans live in rural areas of the country. The National Association of Broadcasters says that about half of America’s nearly 33,500 radio and television outlets provide service to rural areas of the country. Many of those outlets were already struggling for advertising dollars prior to the Coronavirus outbreak and saw an average 14 percent drop in ad revenues in just the first two weeks after the current economic shutdown began.

Rural newspapers are experiencing similar hard times. According to the Pew Research Center, more than 500 small-town newspapers have folded since 2004. The Coronavirus has been a serious blow to those that still survive, as the pandemic forced the temporary closure of many businesses that were their loyal advertisers.

In their letter to Vought, the senators argued that “… increasing local advertising will both help disseminate important information to communities and support local media with revenue that will help keep them operating … This action can be implemented today, without the need for additional federal appropriations from Congress.”

Many agencies of the federal government maintain accounts in their budgets to fund the dissemination of public notices and other information.

The U.S. Census Bureau, for example, has a large budget for advertising related to the ongoing 2020 Census.

The senators urged that the OMB should encourage those agencies to “ … increase advertising in local newspapers and on broadcast stations in order to help ensure that they are able to continue to operate throughout the (Coronavirus) pandemic.”

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