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November 23, 2021

Right to buy local media

Earlier this year, the then Culture Secretary, Fiona Hyslop set up a Working Group to consider the future of ‘public interest journalism’.  With significant input from local independent publishers The Ferret, Greater Govanhill Magazine and Shetland News, the Working Group has come back with a series of recommendations urging the Scottish Government to act quickly.  There is a sense that unless action is taken now to safeguard public interest journalism it could be lost forever. Amongst the 8 key recommendations is one to give communities a right to buy local media outlets. 


Scottish Government

Summary of recommendations – see full report

The working group recommends that:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Audit Scotland, in partnership with the Scottish Public Interest Journalism Institute (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% of its central advertising and marketing budget with public interest news providers.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. The Scottish Government should engage with the UK Government to create tax incentives for businesses to advertise with public interest news providers.

We are confident that there is a very strong appetite for quality public interest journalism in Scotland and that the recommendations in this report will go a long way to sustaining the independent, quality media landscape Scotland has always enjoyed and should continue to enjoy in the future.

Wherever possible, our proposals have not included legislation, both because of the need for expediency and because we recognise that the separation of the “fourth estate” from government is essential to any system of democratic scrutiny.

Our recommendations are explained in detail in the following sections. First, we explain what we mean by public interest journalism, and then we put the recommendations into context by setting out the background to this report.