The printing press remains the symbol—despite the arrival of online news—of the Fourth Estate, of “Freedom of the Press.” That’s why for centuries one of the first acts of authoritarian rulers was to smash the printing presses of the opposition.

In 21st Century democracies, the pressures are more subtle, but with the same potential impact—to silence independent voices: labeling all legitimate, professional media as “fake news,” for example.

Now, coming on the heels of the announcement of the Trump administration’s controversial tariffs on imported steel and aluminum, the Department of Commerce this month announced the imposition of a 22 percent “anti-dumping duty” on imported Canadian newsprint, a major source of paper for many community and metro newspapers.

The Commerce Department had concluded that Canadian paper manufacturers have been “dumping” newsprint into the U.S. for less than its fair value.

The antidumping duties follow duties on newsprint and other uncoated paper products of 4.4 to 9 percent announced in January.

Paper producers have already announced significant price increases in an attempt to absorb the duties. Additionally, newsprint manufacturers with low rates are being asked for supply and are raising prices because of higher demand.
The California News Publishers Association and other industry groups are asking each member of California’s Congressional delegation to oppose Commerce’s imposition of the duties.

David Chavern, CEO of the Newspaper Marketing Association, predicted dire consequences: “Most newspapers will not be able to absorb these increased costs and will be forced to reduce page counts, reduce days of distribution, and/or move more information to digital platforms.

“Some small-market or rural newspapers, with slim margins, will close.”

Ironically, the supposed beneficiary of duties on Canadian newsprint imports— U.S. newsprint mills— will be harmed as tariffs will artificially decrease the demand for their product.”

A consequence of the new steel and aluminum tariffs will be increases in manufacturing costs and consumer prices for cars, refrigerators and washing machines.

The consequence of the newsprint “duties” (another word for tariff) could be even more dire for our democracy.

South Carolina newspaper publisher Susan Rowell warned, “We are painfully aware that some newspapers will not survive this upheaval. For those who do, it will be at the expense of a diminished news mission. Our readers, customers and community will pay the price, just so one small paper mill in Washington state can use trade laws to a very temporary advantage. Long term, we will all lose.”

Although the new duties are in place, the Commerce Department and the U.S. International Trade Commission will be studying their impact this summer on newsprint customers and the newspaper industry. Let’s hope that wiser heads prevail and these new rules are reversed.

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