Public Interest Journalism Working Group minutes: 14 July 2021

Minutes from the group's meeting on 14 July 2021.

Welcome and agree note of last meeting

The meeting was chaired SCK. The list of attendees is available above.

Apologies were noted from SB and RH.

SCK welcomed Andy Regan (AnR) from the Institute of Welsh Affairs (IWA) who was invited to speak to the group about the work which was taking place to promote public interest journalism in Wales.

The group approved the minutes from the meetings on 26 May and 16 June, noting that no immediate amendments were required.

The majority of this meeting would focus on discussing community-led public interest journalism and then in the second half would focus on moving towards finalising recommendations.

The group discussed the Report of the inquiry into Islamophobia in Scotland by the Cross-Party Group on Tackling Islamophobia and whether it should be considered as part of their recommendations. The group felt that the report was very important but that it was both too early into the inquiry and too late into the development of their recommendations to include it in their recommendations. It was raised that the report included issues wider than the remit of the group.

It was suggested that the group could acknowledge the report in their recommendations, noting that it arose towards the end of their deliberations. The group agreed that it was important that, if they were to recommend the creation of a public interest journalism foundation, then a duty to promote diversity and inclusion should be embedded into its purpose from the beginning. It was important for the foundation to have a role in promoting careers to people from diverse backgrounds including non-graduates.

Discussion on community-led public interest journalism

AnR provided an overview of the work of the IWA. They were independent of government and membership funded.

The Welsh Government had committed to providing £1 million a year to fund independent journalism in Wales. The figure of £1 million came about from looking at the precedent of what the Welsh Government were funding and had funded in the past. The Welsh Government provided £200,000 a year to Golwg360, had previously done a one-off community journalism fund and directly funded Books Council Wales which provided funding to online platforms. The £1 million would incorporate the £200,000 already committed to fund Golwg360 and fund more on top of it.

It was recognise that this funding needed to be delivered through an arms-length body rather than direct Welsh Government funding. It was important that the fund was contestable and journalist-led. The outcome of the fund was to improve journalism at a local level and diversify media. The money could be used to fund existing publishers as well as new ones. It was important that the fund did not prop up organisations which were not sustainable. It was noted that it was healthy for the funding to go to a variety of publishers who represented different beliefs on the political spectrum. The initiative was aimed at independent news providers, not just community-led publishers.

There was a need to have an accreditation of quality. For example, the community news fund required Independent Community News Network (ICNN) membership. There was also a need to make sure providers were delivering what they said they would deliver.

AnR left the meeting after this item but the group were welcome to send him questions by correspondence or invite him to a future meeting.

Action: group members to send any additional questions to AnR by correspondence.

The question was raised of whether there was scope to include community- led journalism in Scotland’s community empowerment legislation. It was thought that this legislation was not designed for communities to take on business interests so it would require an amendment to the legislation. It was raised that an informed community was an empowered community.

Action: officials to speak to colleagues working in community empowerment and land reform to find out more information on this community empowerment legislation and the scope for communities to take over publishers which would otherwise close.

It was raised that the proposed foundation could have a specific role in its remit to support community-led public interest journalism. It was suggested that a recommendation could be make it possible for a community to take on a community title if it wants to withdraw. If this was a recommendation, it was noted that ICNN would be on hand to offer free support as they were committed to creating new jobs and making sure the quality of journalism at local level was high. NUJ advocates that community titles at risk of closure should be given the chance to become a community asset. It was important for staff at these titles, including freelancers, to be included in these discussions and be given a chance to run it.

The question of how to measure quality and reputable news publishers was raised. Membership of ICNN could be one signifier of quality but it was acknowledged that not every publisher wants to be a member of ICNN and should not be forced to become one. It was suggested that another marker of quality and reputable news could be a publisher being a partner of the BBC Local Democracy Reporting Service scheme.

It was raised that as well as funding, it was important to provide support in the form of business skills and knowledge for people who want to set up new local community publishers.

Discuss draft recommendations and discuss what further action is needed

It was essential to provide context in the report presenting the recommendations as it would lack weight without this. It was important that the report should a demonstrable commitment from the group. The first two paragraphs of the report would be the most important as a hard hitting introduction about the changing media landscape would be essential for setting the scene for where the recommendations were coming from and why they were needed.

The group were ready to write the report and set a deadline. It was suggested a small sub group of two or three people go away to write the recommendations and then present it back to the wider group for agreement.

The group felt there was a need for ongoing advocacy from the group after the recommendations were published. It was suggested a fuller report could be published at a later date once a dialogue had begun with Ministers on the recommendations. It was agreed the group should move quickly and producea substantial and contextualised report in time for Ministers returning from summer recess. A recommendation of the group could be for the Public Interest Journalism Working Group to continue to meet so that they can follow up on Ministers’ response to the recommendations. A recommendation for a long-term group which would have an advisory role and act as a bridge between the Scottish Government and industry was also suggested.

The draft recommendations circulated by correspondence would be used as a starting point and would be developed by the sub-group into a report. It was important for the sub-group to represent different sets of interests. Once the report was written, the wider group could debate the finer detail.

The quality of information and data in the report was important. RB had access to such data and offered to make this available to the sub-group to use.

Action: RB to make information and data available to the sub-group for the purpose of writing the recommendation report.

The group decided that the sub-group members would be JMcL, JMcM and RD.

The deadline of the 4 August was agreed for the first draft of the recommendation report to be completed. The sub-group can communicate to the group and Officials at a later date if there are any issues with this deadline.

Action: sub-group to draft the recommendation report by 4 August and circulate it with the wider group.

Summary of actions

Group members to send any additional questions to AnR by correspondence.

Officials to speak to colleagues working in community empowerment and land reform to find out more information on this community empowerment legislation and the scope for communities to take over publishers which would otherwise close.

RB to make information and data available to the sub-group for the purpose of writing the recommendation report.

Sub-group to draft the recommendation report by 4 August and circulate it with the wider group.

Attendees and apologies

  • Hans Marter, Shetland News (HM)
  • Denise West, Media Consultant (DW)
  • Andy Regan, Institute for Welsh Affairs (AnR) (Guest)
  • Allan Rennie, University of Stirling (AR)
  • Rob Edwards, The Ferret (RE)
  • Emma Meese, Independent Community News Network (EM)
  • Richard Bogie, News Scotland (RB)
  • John McLellan, Scottish Newspaper Society (JMcL)
  • Joyce McMillan, Independent Journalist (JMcM)
  • Jonathan Heawood, Public Interest News Foundation (JH)
  • Rhiannon Davies, Greater Govanhill (RD)
  • John Toner, NUJ
  • Frances Rafferty, NUJ[1]
  • Simon Cuthbert-Kerr, Scottish Government (SCK) (Chair)
  • Hazel Parkinson, Scottish Government (HP) (Secretariat)
  • India Divers, Scottish Government (ID) (Secretariat)

[1] NB: FR joined 30 minutes before the end of the meeting so was not present for the full discussion.

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