Publication - Minutes

Public Interest Journalism Working Group minutes: 14 April 2021

Published: 25 May 2021
Date of meeting: 14 Apr 2021
Date of next meeting: 28 Apr 2021

Minutes from the meeting of the group on 14 April 2021.

Published:
25 May 2021
Public Interest Journalism Working Group minutes: 14 April 2021

Attendees and apologies

  • Stuart Birkett, Highland News and Media (SB)
  • Richard Bogie, News Scotland (RB)
  • Simon Cuthbert-Kerr, Scottish Government (SCK) (Chair)
  • Rhiannon Davies, Greater Govanhill (RD)
  • India Divers, Scottish Government (ID) (Secretariat)
  • Rob Edwards, The Ferret (RE)
  • Rachel Hamada, Bureau of Investigative Journalism (RH)
  • Jonathan Heawood, Executive Director, Public Interest News Foundation (JH)
  • John McLellan, Scottish Newspaper Society (JMcL)
  • Joyce McMillan, independent journalist (JMcM)
  • Emma Meese, Independent Community News Network (EM)
  • Hazel Parkinson, Scottish Government (HP) (Secretariat)
  • Allan Rennie, University of Stirling (AR)
  • John Toner, NUJ (JT)
  • Frances Rafferty, NUJ (FR)
  • John Toner, NUJ (JT)
  • Denise West, Media Consultant (DW)

Items and actions

Welcome and introduction

The meeting was chaired by SCK. The list of attendees is available in Annex A.

RD was introduced as a new member to the working group.

It was noted that the minutes of the last meeting had been agreed and finalised via correspondence. They will be published on the Scottish Government website as soon as possible, although this may be delayed because of pre-election rules.

Discuss funding options and next steps

The key themes that emerged from the discussion are outlined below.

Advertising

 

The group agreed that advertising should not be classed as direct public funding as it is a commercial arrangement. It should be in a category of its own.

It was noted that the trend for advertising spend to go towards tech giants was a major obstacle.

Direct public funding – training, learning & development, jobs

Overall the group were in agreement that direct public funding for public interest journalism was potentially problematic and not something they wished to consider.

It was suggested that public funding might be useful to support training, learning and development opportunities for journalists. This could include initiatives such as support for young journalists such as apprenticeships.

The example of the UK Government Kickstart Scheme was given, which had been used successfully by group members.

Action: RD to provide a summary of the Kickstart Scheme further so the group can further consider the idea of direct public funding for training/jobs.

The group were wary of innovation funding as it required a lot of resources to come up with something completely new, and this might take journalists away from their day-to-day work. It was agreed that it was more important that funding was used to enable news publishers to provide a quality service.

It was suggested that it would be useful to hear about skills funding from Skills Development Scotland.

Action: Officials to invite Skills Development Scotland to a future meeting to talk about skills funding.

Indirect public funding content funding

 

The group discussed what was meant by content funding. It was agreed it was when the funding was tied to a specific topic but with independent content. It was important that content funding did not hamper journalistic integrity, objectivity or impartiality. The group preferred for content funding to sit under the umbrella of indirect public funding.

The BBC Local Democracy Reporting Service was given as a positive example of content funding. It was noted, as with this scheme, that content funding could exist independently of government through an arms-length body.

It was suggested a deeper dive into the BBC Local Democracy Reporting Service was required to decide if this type of content funding was appropriate.

Action: JMcM and RB to lead a short deep-dive on the strengths and weaknesses of the BBC Local Democracy Reporting Service scheme.

The example of arms-length content funding for the Welsh Language in Wales was given.

Action: EM to present to the group on the scheme in Wales at a future meeting.

Indirect public funding – independent journalism foundation

 

It was suggested that an independent journalism foundation could help to address many of the issues being considered by the group.

It was suggested that the foundation would act like a forum of public debate. There was potential for it to have a decision making or monitoring role but that this wouldn’t be its main purpose.

Amendment from meeting 12 May: The proposed journalism foundation may not be only a forum of public debate it was noted that it was important not to pre-judge any recommendations which may be formed.

Indirect public funding  tax incentives

 

The group thought it was worth looking at tax incentives further. It was raised that it was necessary to look at who benefitted and who qualified for tax incentives as it might not help new publishers or small publishers.

The idea was suggested of an independent body that assessed which publishers qualified against a range of criteria such as for the advertising and rates relief schemes. It was important for there to be quality experts making the decisions. It was proposed that the working group could decide the qualifying criteria.

The idea of tax breaks for advertisers was discussed.

The group decided that they needed expert advice to be able to look into tax as a funding option.

Action: Officials to invite an expert to talk to the group about tax incentives at a future meeting.

Commercial funding – big tech

 

It was noted that Facebook have launched their news product that sees them paying news publishers and there was a need for the group to do something to force that along from a Scottish perspective.

It was suggested that funding only digital public interest journalism could be an option.

The group felt that they needed to ask the Scottish Government to put pressure on Facebook and Google. It was noted that the Scottish Government have limited power to take action on this issue but that they could start a dialogue with big tech. It was also noted that the group had the option to present their recommendations to the UK Government or to suggest within their recommendations Scottish Government takes action. The group wanted to avoid the outcome of big tech doing individual deals with publishers.

The group felt that the topic of audience development and media literacy could be considered alongside the role of a foundation instead of as a separate topic.

It was agreed that the group would continue to discuss the topic of funding models in plenary sessions.

The group agreed deciding a set of high impact recommendations in advance of the programme for government would be a beneficial deadline. The timetable was ambitious but the group was big enough to continue working if there were members unable to attend a meeting due to leave.

Confirm timetable for development of recommendations

It was agreed that Officials would follow up the meeting with a proposal of a more detailed timetable.

Summary of actions

 

RD to provide a summary of the Kickstart Scheme further so the group can further consider the idea of direct public funding for training/jobs. 

Officials to Skills Development Scotland to a future meeting to talk about skills funding.

JMcM and RB to lead a short deep-dive on the strengths and weaknesses of the BBC Local Democracy Reporting Service scheme.

Amendment from meeting 28 April

 

It was decided that JMcM and RB will not lead a short deep-dive on the strengths and weaknesses of the BBC Local Democracy Reporting Service scheme but rather the whole group will consider this in the discussion.

EM to present to the group on the scheme in Wales at a future meeting.

Officials to invite an expert to talk to the group about tax incentives at a future meeting.

Officials to circulate a more detailed timetable.