Plan to boost Scottish news industry will invigorate public interest journalism
Recommendations to support and fund a diverse, pluralistic and sustainable press and public interest journalism has been published for consideration by the Scottish government.
A Scottish Public Interest Journalism Institute has been proposed by a Scottish working group drawn from the newspaper industry, which will promote public interest journalism, media literacy and administer funding to support a diverse, pluralistic and sustainable Scottish press.
It makes a range of recommendations which will encourage different types of news providers to be set up, such as local communities taking over their local paper if it is closed, tax incentives for businesses to advertise with public interest news providers and for the Scottish Government to encourage big tech companies to support the news industry.
The report says a thriving news sector is “an essential part of democratic culture, providing citizens with the steady stream of information and debate they need in order to make informed choices and play a full part in democratic decision-making”. It adds that a strong Scottish press is even more vital today to the combat the misinformation and disinformation often found on social media.
The Scottish government’s response will be published later in the year.
John Toner, NUJ national organiser Scotland, said:
“The Working Group comprised members from a range of backgrounds and interests, but we recognised our common ground and focussed on it from the outset. We are pleased with the report we have produced, and hope that we can convince the Scottish Government to adopt and implement our recommendations. It is important to acknowledge the contribution of Edinburgh Freelance Branch in general, and of Joyce McMillan in particular. They have much to be proud of.”
Joyce McMillan, chair of the NUJ’s Edinburgh Freelance Branch, said:
“It is a huge pleasure to welcome the publication of this Report. Thanks to many months of hard work by the Working Group, it both reflects many of the priorities highlighted by the NUJ over the last two years and represents a powerful consensus among the very diverse media interests represented within the group.
“Edinburgh Freelance Branch was inspired to work on these issues by the NUJ’s News Recovery Plan for the UK and Ireland, published in April 2020; and through our weekly online Branch meetings during the pandemic, we were able to develop a series of proposals based on the plan that could be implemented here in Scotland, and to begin lobbying on the ideas raised. The publication of the Working Group’s report represents a very welcome next stage in the debate about how to sustain and develop Scotland's strong tradition of public interest journalism, in a fast-changing 21st century media landscape.
“Edinburgh Freelance Branch is immensely grateful to everyone who supported us in this process, including NUJ officials in Scotland and in London; and we hope that NUJ members will now play an active part in ensuring the implementation of the Working Group’s recommendations, which we believe are of vital importance not only to journalists, but to all those who care about our democratic future.”
The group’s recommendations:
- The Scottish Government should work with stakeholders to establish a new Scottish Public Interest Journalism Institute – a high-profile independent body that draws on a wide range of resources to develop public interest journalism for Scotland, co-ordinating new and existing initiatives and strategically administering grant funding to support a diverse, pluralistic and sustainable Scottish public interest media sector.
- The Scottish Government and OSCR, the Scottish charity regulator, should take steps to enable non-profit public interest news providers to register as charities; and the Scottish Government should also create an alternative legal status, with similar tax benefits to charitable status, for other non-profit public interest news providers.
- The Scottish Government should embed media literacy in the school curriculum, and launch a voucher scheme for young people aged 15-19 to access public interest journalism free of charge.
- The Scottish Government should examine the feasibility of introducing provisions like 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.
- Audit Scotland, in partnership with SPIJI, should conduct an annual audit of advertising and marketing investment by the Scottish Government and public bodies, to include a measurement of the impact of this expenditure on the health of the Scottish news publishing landscape; and the Scottish Government should invest no less than 25 per cent of its central advertising and marketing budget with public interest news providers.
- Audit Scotland, in partnership with SPIJI, should conduct an annual audit of public notices; and the Scottish Government should improve the accessibility of public notices and strengthen the ties with public interest journalism, and issue best practice guidelines for local authorities and other public bodies to ensure that they promote public notices to those who have an interest in the information.
- The Scottish Government should work with the UK Government to ensure that the new Digital Markets Unit enables public interest news providers of all shapes and sizes to thrive in the digital economy; and the Scottish Government should encourage big tech companies to support the establishment of SPIJI.
- The Scottish Government should engage with the UK Government to create tax incentives for businesses to advertise with public interest news providers.