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Public Interest Journalism Working Group minutes: 28 April 2021

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

Minutes from the meeting of the group on 28 April 2021.

Published:
25 May 2021
Public Interest Journalism Working Group minutes: 28 April 2021

Attendees and apologies

  • Stuart Birkett, Highland News and Media (SB)
  • Richard Bogie, News Scotland (RB)
  • Simon Cuthbert-Kerr, Creative Industries, Screen and Media Policy Unit, Scottish Government (Chair) (SCK)
  • Rhiannon Davies, Greater Govanhill (RD)
  • India Divers, Creative Industries, Screen and Media Policy Unit, Scottish Government (Secretariat) (ID)
  • Rob Edwards, The Ferret (RE)
  • Tomiwa Folorunso, Freelance Writer / Former Black Ballad Scotland Regional Editor (TF)
  • Rachel Hamada, Bureau of Investigative Journalism (RH)
  • Hans Marter, Shetland News (HM)
  • Emma Meese, Independent Community News Network (EM)
  • John McLellan, Scottish Newspaper Society (JMcL)
  • Joyce McMillan, independent journalist (JMcM)
  • Hazel Parkinson, Creative Industries, Screen and Media Policy Unit, Scottish Government (Secretariat) (HP)
  • Allan Rennie, University of Stirling (AR)
  • John Toner, NUJ (JT)
  • Denise West, Media Consultant (DW)

Items and actions

Welcome

The meeting was chaired by SCK.

TF was introduced as a new member to the working group. Apologies from FR and JH were noted.

It was noted that there should be an amendment to the action in the minutes of the last meeting of 14 April regarding allocation of deep dive activity on BBC Local Democracy Scheme

It was noted that the minutes and remit are unable to be published online until 10 May due to the pre-election period rules.

Scottish Government advertising

It was raised that it was important to see Scottish Government marketing as a two-way exchange. The government receives effective communication from this exchange.

It was important to have transparency and clarity over the way public money is spent in marketing and advertising. A system was needed to ensure the public understood how spending decisions were being made by public bodies and ensure scrutiny. It was suggested that an annual report of government spend, including agencies, might increase transparency.

Action: group to form recommendation surrounding the need for transparency and scrutiny of SG marketing spend (see Annex B).

Advertising deals should favour Scottish business, rather than tech giants, to support Scottish jobs.

The media landscape was changing and there was a lot of value in independent media. It would be beneficial to have an independent, expert, arms-length group to advise the government of changes to the media landscape, help make decisions and advise the government how public money should be spent.

There was a discussion around procurement and value for money. It was raised that sometimes smaller publications with smaller circulation could deliver more effective tailored communication than a regional or national publisher.

The group felt that there was a need to define what constituted as public interest journalism. It was expressed that it was important to make sure that smaller, independent publishers were included.

The group agreed that media plurality was important to consider when looking at value for money as looking at just numbers was too simplistic. It was important to look at how the Scottish Government could advertise in diverse outlets to reach particular communities or demographics.

Programmatic advertising

The group agreed that programmatic advertising should be considered in the same way as other forms of advertising.

It was raised that Scottish Government and agencies should only use websites for advertising that are on an approved list. It was suggested that being a member of the Independent Community News Network (ICNN) could be a criterion. The group agreed there was a need for news websites to meet criteria which would be reviewed by an independent group.

Amendment from meeting 12 May: membership of ICNN could be one of a number of criteria, not the only criteria for approving websites to be used for Scottish Government advertising.

Action: group will formulate criteria of what constitutes public interest journalism (see Annex B).

Action: group to recommend that news websites used for Scottish Government advertising should be on an approved list such as a public interest news register (see Annex B).

Action: group to recommend that an independent decision making group should be set up, with of its functions being to approve news websites for Scottish Government and agencies advertising (see Annex B).

Public notices

There needs to be a reassessment of how public notice information is communicated. It was suggested that Local Authorities could work with publishers to make sure that information is dispersed effectively.

The point was made that most people would not regularly check their council’s website for new information. Information needed to be accessible and be communicated on an independent, trustworthy source where the public knew where to find it.

The issue was raised that Local Authorities and public bodies are required to publish in printed newspapers, which excludes digital media. The group agreed that it was important not to stifle the competitive element of public notices.

It was suggested that there needs to be a policy that makes sure that public notices are published in the most appropriate environment.

Action: group to recommend a clear set of policy guidelines on the use of Public Notices are developed – ensuring digital news publishing is included and that public notices are published in appropriate environments (see Annex B).

It was noted that it was important to ensure when establishing a policy that public notices should not be withdrawn if Local Authorities do not like the content local publishers produce.

Tax incentives for advertising public interest journalism

It was noted that the Italian model on tax incentives was interesting *.

The group acknowledged that the issue of tax incentives was largely a reserved matter but that the Scottish Government could put pressure on the UK Government to introduce a UK wide policy.

The group agreed that a recommendation on tax incentives was needed (see Annex B). It was suggested a tax expert could review the recommendation once developed.

It was acknowledged that tax incentives would not benefit small titles as they did not have a high enough turnover.

The idea of a voucher scheme was raised. The voucher would be worth a certain amount and be given to businesses to cash in with local news publishers.

The importance of making all elements of public interest news viable was raised. The group felt the recommendations should be all encompassing e.g. vouchers to benefit small publishers and tax incentives to benefit large publishers.

Summary of actions and AOB

Group to form recommendation surrounding the need for transparency and scrutiny of SG marketing spend

Group will formulate criteria of what constitutes public interest journalism.

Group to recommend that news websites used for Scottish Government advertising should be on an approved list such as a public interest news register.

Group to recommend that an independent decision making group should be set up, with of its functions being to approve news websites for Scottish Government and agencies advertising.

Group to recommend a clear set of policy guidelines on the use of Public Notices are developed – ensuring digital news publishing is included and that public notices are published in appropriate environments.

HP and ID to circulate draft recommendations based on the consensus of the discussion for edit and agreement.

Annex B

Recommendation one – SG marketing scrutiny

The group identifies a need for greater transparency and scrutiny in Scottish Government advertising investment in news publishing to ensure producers of public interest journalism are benefiting from this investment.

The group recommends a third-party independent committee is set up as an audit function to scrutinise Scottish Government advertising investment in news publishing and to ensure value for money, targeted investment, audience reach and delivery of public interest journalism. It should develop metrics that take into account the market impact of SG advertising, and that can show whether or not this impact is net positive or negative for a healthy news publishing ecosystem.

The committee would work to open up a more transparent dialogue between Scottish Government, its agencies, and news publishers. This would also enable discussion with Scottish Government over the intricacies and potential of programmatic advertising.

Depending on later recommendations, this committee could form part of a wider Scottish Public Interest Journalism Foundation.

Recommendation two  register for ‘public interest journalism’

The group recommends that the committee identified in Recommendation Two would also act as the decision-making body for determining what is classed as ‘Public Interest Journalism’. This should be based on the below criteria, ensuring this criteria is not exclusionary of any form of public interest journalism, and recognises the diversity of the Scottish news publishing landscape.

The committee would then be able to publish a Register for Public Interest Journalism.

*Group to insert Criteria for establishing ‘Public Interest Journalism* (could include membership of appropriate organisations)

Recommendation three – accessibility of public notices

The group recommends that Scottish Government leads on a policy to improve the accessibility of public notices. Public notice information is vital for open democracy and accountability, locally and nationally, and it is essential that the information is sign-posted, accessible to all affected, and available through high-profile media relevant to the subject matter.

Public bodies should make use of local publications, national publications and online publications to best target their information to ensure communities are able to access important public notices without having to proactively search the information out.

The group recommends Scottish Government sets out a policy and issues clear policy guidelines for local authorities and other public bodies to follow which ensures every effort is made to promote public notices to those who have an interest in the information.

If a Scottish Public Interest Journalism Foundation is set up, the foundation could work with Scottish Government to develop the policy guidelines.

Recommendation four tax incentives

The UK News publishing sector has proposed an advertising tax credit system which could benefit the UK economy by up to £2.3bn from a ten per cent rebate on advertising spend, up to £5.9bn from a 30 per cent rebate, and it is recommended that the Scottish Government actively supports this policy and engages with the UK Treasury to secure delivery.

 

* On March 17th, the Italian government introduced a 30 per cent tax relief on advertising spending during 2020. This was doubling down on an existing policy. A tax credit for incremental ad spending, already in place pre-coronavirus, means that if a company increases its annual advertising investment in newspapers and magazines (both print and digital) and local broadcasters, a decent tax credit applies to the increased sum. (Source: The Irish Times)