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Viewpoints: Newsprint tariff creates bipartisan opposition

A broad and bipartisan coalition of business and political leaders spoke earlier this month before the International Trade Commission about the dangers of the tariffs on newsprint that, among other problems, threaten Americans’ rights under the First Amendment.

Following are excerpts from their comments, provided by the News Media Alliance and others:

Blog on the STOPP Website recapping the hearing:

  • 19 members testified in front of the International Trade Commission in opposition to the newsprint tariffs.
  • Five members voiced concern in written comments along with letters from the Michigan, Virginia and South Dakota delegations.

Quotes from members of the STOPP coalition:

“Local publishers are not able to absorb these new taxes on imports of newsprint, which have caused price increases as high as 30 percent,” said Paul Boyle, senior vice president of public policy at the News Media Alliance. “Newspapers are telling us they have no other choice but to cut jobs, reduce pages in the newspapers, and in some cases, cut down on delivery days in the community. This not only hurts local communities but it will also hurt U.S. paper producers as demand for their product will decline.”

“I applaud the decision-makers in Washington for standing up for jobs across the country,” said Lisbeth Lyons, vice president of government affairs at Printing Industries of America. “These tariffs on newsprint are already hurting our industry and will be detrimental to commercial printing companies and book printers if left in place."

“For many grocers, the print circular continues to be the largest advertising expense and for good reason as a Nielsen Homescan study released this year showed that 80 percent of U.S. households still use circulars and other traditional printed sources of product information when making purchasing decisions. The supermarket industry is a high tax industry with the majority of independent grocers operating on just 1 to 2 percent net profit margins, meaning any increase in expenses as passed on in the form of a tariff could have unintended consequences for these entrepreneurs and the communities they serve,” said Greg Ferrara, National Grocers Association executive vice president of advocacy, public relations and member services.

Quotes from members:

Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo

"The freedom of the press is one of the central tenants of the first amendment of the constitution. Newspapers have always been an integral part of how Americans are able to achieve the full aims of this freedom – through the promotion of a marketplace of ideas. Newspapers have availed the public with essential information about their neighborhoods. Newspapers are unique in comparison to other mediums in that they are the most cited source citizens use for news about their local town or city, arts and culture, or schools and education. This is why I am concerned about the imposition of duties on newsprint that this petition would result in.

Specifically, the increased costs on newspapers that would result from this petition could have a direct impact on my community’s access to information. Even the signaling of potential duties has been problematic.

Since the petition was filed in August 2017, New York printers and publishers have had to contemplate or implement cost cutting measures such as reducing pages and eliminating sections.

The largest local newspaper in my district, the Buffalo News, is experiencing increased newsprint costs of about $600,000 a month due to the preliminary duties and its effect of constricting supply. Newsprint is the second highest cost for The News, right behind personnel, and compounded with their major supplier now leaving the market – The Buffalo News is facing an untenable situation.

Other local newspapers, including the Niagara Gazette and the Bee Newspapers, are also bracing for the impact of this investigation."

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine

“In my home state of Maine, 100 percent of the newsprint used by our newspapers comes from Canada. There are no longer any mills in Maine that produce newsprint. The average increase in newsprint cost in Maine is already 22.5 percent, as a result of tariffs implemented earlier this year, and newsprint is second only to personnel in most newspapers’ expenses. Some newspapers in my state have already reduced the number of pages they produce and the newsworthy events they are able to cover. This is much more than a mere financial setback for one industry. For many of our small town and rural newspapers, these tariffs, if finalized, would harm the dissemination of information about our communities, our government, and the world around us.”

U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine

“Paris, January 16, 1787 - Thomas Jefferson to Edward Carrington: “The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

One of the essential qualities of our country is the Freedom of the Press. The press is the only industry in America with its own line in the Constitution and the 1st Amendment; and what you’re considering today is a very unusual case that brings into conflict two principles that are important to the establishment of the country. One is, you have to obey the law; and the law is in regards to tariffs. But the other principle is the 1st Amendment; and I would argue that these two principles run into one another. They are in conflict. This is a special case. The 1st Amendment says, “Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech or the press.”

Recently – the Bangor Daily News, one of the great papers in our state, announced that their response to the increase in newsprint prices brought about by these tariffs is to reduce the size of the newspaper in September by an inch. That’s an inch loss multiplied by millions across the country – an inch loss in information. It could also lead to layoffs and closures of newspapers, particularly in rural areas where the internet either doesn’t reach or is inaccessible to our citizens, particularly the elderly.”

U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga.

“Of all the news media there are, there’s none that delivers a more quality insight into the issue of the day [than local newspapers],” Isakson began. “The threat of losing the newsprint [industry] in this country… is a tremendous threat to the First Amendment, my ability to express myself and my ability as a businessman to sell a product.”

U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss.

“My greatest concern is how these tariffs will harm a major newsprint producer in my state, as well as the many small and rural newspapers who operate with small budgets and tight margins,” Wicker said during his testimony. “These tariffs will not hurt newspapers alone. Commercial printers, book publishers, and the many retail stores that advertise using newsprint will also suffer. Together, these sectors represent some 600,000 jobs and are located in every state across the country. It is for these reasons that I urge you to reject these tariffs.”

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