Publication - Minutes

Public Interest Journalism Working Group minutes: 26 May 2021

Published: 19 Jul 2021
Date of meeting: 26 May 2021

Minutes from the group's meeting on 26 May 2021.

Published:
19 Jul 2021
Public Interest Journalism Working Group minutes: 26 May 2021

Attendees and apologies

  • Stuart Birkett, Highland News and Media (SB)
  • 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)
  • Hans Marter, Shetland News (HM)

Items and actions

Welcome and approve note of last meeting

The meeting was chaired by SCK and HP. SCK could not chair the whole meeting due to a conflicting commitment. The list of attendees is available in Annex A.

Guest speaker, Marion Kunderan (MK) from the Scottish Library and Information Council joined the meeting.

Apologies were noted from Richard Bogie

The minutes from the meeting on 28 April were raised, it was important to note that the idea of a public interest news register needed to be considered in more depth before a final recommendation was made as there was a danger that it may lead to some reputable publishers who were not on the list to being excluded from receiving government advertising. It was noted that this did not need to be amended in the minutes.

Action: officials to amend an error in the minutes of 28 April which stated JT as present as he did not attend.

Clarify definitions of public interest news and public interest news provider

The group agreed that it was important to decide on accurate definitions of public interest news and public interest news providers and that a broad and joined up definition would help move the group forward. It was noted that this would be especially important if the group decided to recommend that government advertising should be targeted to some and not others as the definition would form a basis of which types of organisations to include.

The group discussed the idea of entertainment news being public interest journalism and it was noted that the charitable definition for public interest journalism did not include entertainment. However, it was raised that entertainment journalism can bring in revenue to support public interest news. The group did not reach a consensus on the definition but felt it was important to return to the conversation when discussing the issue of charitable status for some forms of public interest journalism and when forming the final recommendations.

Action: group to discuss definitions of public interest news and public interest news providers when discussing the issue of charitable status.

Media literacy and developing an audience for public interest journalism

ID had spoken to the Curriculum Policy Unit and noted that teaching children how to identify reputable news sources was not directly on the school curriculum but there were initiatives such as the First Minister’s Reading Challenge that could provide funding for this purpose.

MK provided an overview of the New Library Strategy and the role of libraries in creating media literate citizens. It was noted that one of the aims of the strategy was to make libraries places of trusted information and hubs in their communities. Libraries had a role to play in democracy and the Scandinavian Model was noted as a good example of how a library could promote the development of democracy. Libraries were places for debate and discussion which could help communities to make informed decisions. 

Libraries were important for media literacy. The library partnership with the Bureau for Investigative Journalism was noted. There were links between libraries and the education system which started at early years. The School Library Network and the Public Library Improvement Fund were noted. The initiatives Community Info Coop and Civic Information Consortium were raised in discussion.

It was raised that the issue of media literacy has never been more important due to the prevalence of disinformation and that there needs to be a role in educating young people the difference between a tweet and an article in a reputable newspaper. The group agreed that teaching this skills should be an essential part of the school curriculum and it was suggested that this should be one of the group’s recommendations. 

It was noted that the importance of media literacy in the curriculum was not to create more journalists or to create an audience for public interest journalism but to create engaged citizens of the future. Creating media literate citizens may not lead to audience growth for public interest journalism.

It was noted that marketing can help to reframe the relationship between the media and the public. The idea of a mini-series was suggested as this could portray what journalists o and show them as human beings. The group felt there was a lack of trust from the public towards journalism and that many people did not feel represented by the media. There as a lack of ownership from the public over media content.

The point was raised that when talking about media literacy, it was important to include adults in the conversation, not just school children. Education for all ages was important. It was felt that an educated electorate would help to strengthen democracy. However, it was acknowledged that the ages 7 to 10 were key point to engage children in the media to harness their curiosity.

The group agreed that as they had a limited number of recommendations to propose so were conscious of recommending an action that did not directly benefit public interest news journalists. The point was made that if this was the only recommendation implemented then it would not be enough to create a sustainable public interest journalism sector. The group agreed that the previously proposed public interest journalism foundation could play a role in joining up the existing work on media literacy.

The idea of giving people vouchers to spend on public interest journalism was raised. An initiative such as this would introduce the idea that good media is something people may have to pay for.

Content funding

EM provided an overview of Content Funding for Welsh Language in Wales which was for media and broadcasting. In 2021 a pot of £3.73 million and a pot of 0.8 million of funding was provided to the sector with the majority of it going to rural and post-industrial areas. This funding was provided with the goal to achieve 1 million Welsh speakers by 2050. The idea of having an initiative similar to this in Scotland was raised.

EM also mentioned the Independent Community Journalism Fund which was funded through Business Wales and had expected outcomes such as increased readership, business growth etc. The Institute of Welsh Affairs (IWA) Report published at the end of April on media priorities and it recommended a contestable fund of at least £1 million a year to address the democratic deficit in Wales.

The group discussed the strengths and weaknesses of the BBC Local Democracy Scheme. Some of the positives were that it created jobs for journalists, covered local institutions, put money into industry, it provided considerable benefit to small publishers especially in terms of making them financially viable and allowing them to employ staff.

Some of the negatives were that it was a one size fits all model with no nuance for different publishers and how they can use the money. It was raised that the scheme worked better for bigger publishers and the money did not go to the community. It was noted that the BBC was an interested party so there was a political background to the scheme. It had a complicated application.

Overall there were mixed responses to how useful the scheme is. Many news publishers see it as a press release whereas others use it as the basis of a story. It was raised that there needs to be a business part of the scheme so that applicants have to show they have business skills e.g. they can manage taxes. It was noted that many ICNN members choose not to participate in the scheme through choice, it’s not that they cannot access it.

Action: officials to follow up with group by correspondence to ask if they would like to come back to this item at a future meeting as there was not enough time to conclude the discussion.

AOB

JMcM raised that it was three weeks until the group discussed the idea of a journalism foundation so proposed four ideas of discussion: remit, funding governance and scale

Action: group to email Officials anything they would like on the agenda for the meeting on 9 June for the discussion on tax incentives and big tech.

Summary of actions

  • officials to amend an error in the minutes of 28 April which stated JT as present as he did not attend
  • group to discuss definitions of public interest news and public interest news providers when discussing the issue of charitable status
  • officials to follow up with group by correspondence to ask if they would like to come back to this item at a future meeting as there was not enough time to conclude the discussion
  • group to email Officials anything they would like on the agenda for the meeting on 9 June for the discussion on tax incentives and big tech