THE role of trusted journalism published by local news media titles is more important than ever before.

With rapid advances in AI technology, the potential for convincing misinformation to spread through the internet is increasing exponentially.

And the challenges that poses for our democracy are coming into sharp focus as we enter an election year.

This makes the role of trusted journalism even more important than ever. It is critical that all of us know where to go for trusted news and information, subject to the proper checks and balances.

Local news media titles are very highly trusted, and they fight for your community and your right to know on a daily basis.

Public notices - advertisements about things such as road closures, planning and licensing applications – are admittedly less glamorous than brilliant front-page investigation.

But they are still a very important part of a local newspaper’s offering.

If, for example, authorities want to make changes to the road network in your area then they are legally required to publish a public notice publicising the plans in the local paper.

That statutory requirement on councils gives everyone the opportunity see the plans and debate them before they are implemented.

Weakening or changing that statutory requirement amounts to an attack on your right to know.

Sadly, that is exactly what new legislation from the Welsh Government proposes to do.

Tucked away in the Local Government Finance (Wales) Bill is a proposal to remove the statutory requirement for councils to publish council tax changes in print local newspapers.

This is dangerous and must be abandoned.

Independent research and the Welsh government’s own impact assessment show that printed local newspapers are an essential platform for ensuring that the public - particularly the elderly, disenfranchised, those living in rural areas, and lower income households - have access to critical information that may have a profound impact upon their lives.

According to Digital Communities Wales, the level of digital exclusion in Wales is even higher than in the rest of the UK, with as many as seven per cent of the population, or 170,000 people, not using the internet.

As the Bill’s impact assessment acknowledges, removing the requirement for local authorities to publish council tax details in local newspapers could reduce accessibility for older age groups - only 41 per cent of people over 75 have basic digital skills.

It may also create accessibility issues for lower income households, who may have less access to and affordability of devices and connectivity.

Those who are economically inactive are less likely to use the internet (86 per cent) than those in employment (99 per cent).

And it could also impact households in rural areas. Digital Communities Wales suggested that people living in rural areas can be excluded from digital services due to problems in broadband provision.

People living in rural Wales may therefore rely more on information about their council tax being provided in print because they are less able to access information online.

Relying on publishing the notices in at least one library in the local authority area, as proposed in the Bill, is not a credible solution.

A recent report by the Wales Public Interest Journalism Working Group, which included representatives from a wide range of publishers big and small, recognised that the publication of statutory notices in newspapers provides vital information to the community.

At the same time, it noted that such notices provide a vital revenue stream for news publishers, supporting coverage of news, politics and current affairs and that some titles might no longer be viable if public notices were removed.

The local news media industry has also worked to boost the reach of public notices still further with the launch of the Public Notice Portal in May this year.

Developed with funding and technical expertise from Google, the free to use portal is now the online home for thousands of public notices from across the local news media sector.

But all that good work could be placed at risk if the statutory requirement to publish in print newspapers were weakened, as proposed in the new Bill.

We urge the Welsh government and Members of the Senedd from all parties to stand up for transparency and accountability by maintaining the statutory requirement for councils to publish these vital public notices in print local papers.