A new Scottish institute for public interest journalism is at the heart of a series of recommendations published today to safeguard the future of news gathering in Scotland.
The Public Interest Journalism working group was established by the Scottish Government last year in response to industry-wide concerns that more support was needed to sustain quality journalism at all levels in Scotland.
The SNS played a full part in its work, represented by president Richard Bogie and director John McLellan. Past presidents Denise West and Allan Rennie were also members, along with Highland News & Media non-executive director Stuart Birkett.
The key recommendations are:
1. The Scottish Government to help establish a new, independent Scottish Public Interest Journalism Institute to co-ordinate new and existing initiatives, and administer grant funding to support a diverse and sustainable Scottish public interest media sector.
2. The Scottish Government and OSCR, the Scottish charity regulator, to enable non-profit public interest news providers to register as charities, and grant tax benefits to other non-profit public interest news providers.
3. Embed media literacy in the school curriculum, and launch a voucher scheme for 15-19 year-olds to access public interest journalism free of charge.
4. A feasibility study for provisions to allow community groups to take over a local news publication set to close.
5. An annual official audit of advertising and marketing investment by the Scottish Government and public bodies, including the impact of this expenditure on the health of Scottish news publishing. The Scottish Government should invest no less than 25 per cent of its central advertising and marketing budget with public interest news providers.
6. Audit Scotland to conduct an annual audit of public notices, and the Scottish Government to improve the accessibility of public notices and strengthen ties with public interest journalism. Produce best-practice guidelines for local authorities and other public bodies.
7. Scottish Government to work with the UK Government to ensure the new Digital Markets Unit enables public interest news providers of all shapes and sizes to thrive in the digital economy. Scottish Government to encourage big tech companies to support the new Scottish Public Interest Journalism Institute
8. The Scottish Government to engage with the UK Government to create tax incentives for businesses to advertise with public interest news providers.
SNS director John McLellan said:
“The proposals are ambitious and innovative but also deliverable, and can put Scotland at the forefront of the international quest to secure a sustainable future for public interest journalism.
“Scotland has a justifiable reputation for brilliant journalism, not for its own sake but for the benefits fearless, independent reporting brings to all parts of society. The technological revolution has created significant challenges which the sector cannot solve on its own, but we believe solutions are at hand.
“If fully implemented, our recommendations will help ensure a viable future for independent public scrutiny of decision making and democratic accountability in Scotland at local, regional and national levels.
“The working group drew from the different components of the news publishing sector, from hyper-local to international, and we are confident our proposals can provide the basis for a stable and flourishing sector in which rewarding careers can be sustained.”
Culture Secretary Angus Robertson said:
“A strong and vibrant news sector is essential to a well-functioning democracy. I’d like to thank the working group for the recommendations which we’ll consider carefully before responding.”
The full report can be found here.