April 19, 2022
Right to buy your own news
Despite the onslaught of social media channels, the humble local newspaper has proved to be a remarkably resilient survivor of the online age. Every time I visit somewhere new, I seek out the local rag – it’s a bit of an obsession. But beyond this hyper-local level of independent journalism, there has been concern for some time that ‘public interest journalism’ is at risk. Towards the end of last year the Scottish Government published its report – Scotland’s News – suggesting how to deliver a sustainable future for public interest journalism. Some interesting recommendations – a community right to buy newspaper titles among them.
Summary of recommendations
The working group recommends that:
- 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 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.
- 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.
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.