NUJ welcomes Scottish government’s commitment to a public interest news institute

  • 24 Jun 2022

The union said Scotland desperately needed an organisation to champion public interest news, but it needed start-up funding from the government.

The NUJ has welcomed the Scottish government’s commitment to setting up a Scottish Public Interest Journalism Institute to support public interest news.

Angus Robertson, the Cabinet Secretary for constitution, external affairs and culture, was responding to a set of recommendations from an independent working group on public interest journalism, which included the NUJ. He said he would “bring together institutions and stakeholders at a cross-industry roundtable in autumn 2022, to consider the best model for an institute, and to transition the current working group into a new steering group with a remit to consider how best to deliver the institute”.

John Toner, NUJ national organiser Scotland, said:

“Scotland desperately needs an organisation to champion public interest news following year-on-year cuts and loss of many titles. So, I am pleased at the enthusiasm of the minister for this recommendation and his commitment to setting in train plans to get the institute established.

“The institute would be at the forefront of looking at new models of news delivery and funding and foster media literacy. In the long term the working group envisages it as self-financing, but the minister must show his commitment to this body, which would be totally independent from the government, by looking at ways to provide funding to get it set up. 

“As a member of the working group I would like to thank the excellent work of the secretariat of the creative industries, screen and media unit which facilitated the meetings and business of the group.”

Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said:

“Many of the working group recommendations followed on from the union’s News Recovery Plan, so I am delighted that the minister has been positive about the setting up of a public interest news institute and has agreed to see if local newspapers can become community assets, and offered to local people if they face closure by the big publishing groups. 

“The government should also be using its influence to work with the tech groups to provide funding for the institute and public interest journalism in Scotland. The Westminster government bottled its own review of how to make news sustainable, carried out by Dame Frances Cairncross, so I hope the Scottish government will carry through its commitments and find some hard cash to back them.”

The working group was set up to look at measures and make recommendations to the government to support the news organisations following the crisis in the industry caused by Covid, the digital revolution and closure of many Scottish newspaper titles and cuts to journalist numbers. 

The minister gave the go-head for the setting of the institute which would support the sustainability of the sector through funding initiatives, research, grant making, providing training and support, and promoting media literacy.

This was one of eight recommendations from the working group, drawn from media organisations, news publications and public interest journalism groups. The minister also agreed to explore extending provisions such as those in the 2003 Land Reform (Scotland) Act, to give community groups the scope to take over a local news publication that is otherwise in danger of closing.

He turned down a recommendation for certain public interest news organisations to be able to apply for charitable status. He also was unable to give guarantees on government spending on advertising and public notices.

A number of the recommendations called on the Scottish government to take up issues with the UK government – such as putting pressure on Westminster to give the Digital Marketing Unit sufficient powers to regulate the tech companies which have mopped up virtually all digital advertising revenue, while helping themselves to news content.  The NUJ hopes ministers will take a robust approach with the Secretary of State for Digital, Media, Culture and Sport, and lobby for the UK government to create tax incentives for businesses to advertise with public interest news providers.

The NUJ’s Edinburgh Freelance Branch can claim credit for persuading the government to the setting up of the working group. Branch chair Joyce McMillan, said:

"As a member of the Working Group on Public Interest Journalism in Scotland, and a lifelong NUJ member and activist, I very much welcome the Scottish Government’s response to our report, and particularly the Scottish Government’s strong support in principle for the setting up of an independent Public Interest Journalism Institute in Scotland.  

"Scotland has a long and proud journalistic tradition, and it will be vital, in the coming years, to have in place a cross-industry institution which can act as a focal point for discussion and action on how to ensure that tradition survives, thrives, and continues to develop, in the fast-changing 21st century media landscape.

"I look forward to further discussions with the Scottish Government about how the initial development of such an institution can best be supported, and to the eventual emergence of a Scottish Public Interest Journalism Institute that will be able to research, act and campaign across the whole range of the working group’s recommendations, which enjoy general cross-industry support."

Working group's report:  Scotland's News - towards a sustainable future for public interest journalism


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