Editorial: North Dakota bureaucrats should not be the gatekeepers of public information
Removing the requirement to publish insurance abstracts in North Dakota newspapers will make citizens less informed and will severely harm the financial viability of community newspapers.
During the last decade, some government bureaucrats have urged lawmakers to stop requiring public agencies to publish their official business in newspapers.
Those bureaucrats argue they might as well publish that information on government websites rather than in an independent medium.
So far, the taxpayers and those whom they elect aren’t buying the argument, and for good reason. Our country was born with a sense of skepticism. We favor an independent press over government control.
The latest example of this ongoing tension concerns the annual publishing of insurance abstracts in North Dakota newspapers.
Insurance abstracts, or short briefs that illustrate the financial position of insurance companies that write policies in North Dakota, are published each May in the state’s newspapers, and have been for more than 100 years. Lawmakers enacted this law six years after statehood because they felt citizens needed to know basic information about the insurance companies that serve them.
State Insurance Commissioner Jon Godfread, whose office is now charged with regulating that industry, would like to save those mostly out-of-state big insurance companies a few dollars by allowing them to publish their abstracts on his agency’s website instead of in community newspapers.
We won’t question the insurance commissioner’s motives, but we do question whether those mostly out-of-state big insurance companies will pass those minor cost savings along to their North Dakota customers if the law does change.
What we do know is this: Removing the requirement to publish insurance abstracts in North Dakota newspapers will make citizens less informed and will severely harm the financial viability of community newspapers, which are just as vital to North Dakota communities as schools, churches and other small, locally owned businesses.
Some small-town newspaper owners have said a change in this law could require them to cut back on community coverage, raise prices or even force them to close.
This concerns Amy Wobbema, board president of the North Dakota Newspaper Association and owner of the New Rockford Transcript and the Foster County Independent in Carrington.
“Yes, insurance abstracts are a source of revenue, but this isn’t just about money, and newspapers aren’t asking for a handout,” she wrote in a recent editorial. “We are asking for transparency and access to information for the public.
“This is a slippery slope, readers,” she went on. “If this bill passes, the state agencies and legislators will go after another public notice next. Soon it will be your city council minutes or school board minutes that they want to remove from the local newspaper.”
Please tell your local North Dakota House members that you don’t want government bureaucrats being the gatekeepers of vital public information. Tell them you want to see information of public interest published in your local, independent newspapers. Tell them to vote against Senate Bill 2143.