Public Interest Journalism Working Group minutes: 9 June 2021

Minutes from the group's meeting on 9 June 2021.

Attendees and apologies

  • Simon Cuthbert-Kerr, Scottish Government (SCK) (Chair)
  • Rhiannon Davies, Greater Govanhill (RD)
  • India Divers, Scottish Government (ID) (Secretariat)
  • Richard Bogie, News Scotland (RB)
  • 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)
  • 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. The list of attendees is available above.

Guest speaker, Stuart Wilson (SW), Reserved Tax Team Leader at the Scottish Government joined the meeting.

Apologies were noted from Stuart Birkett and Frances Rafferty.

It was noted that RB would recuse himself from the meeting before the discussion on ‘Big Tech’.

Content funding

The group concluded the discussion on Content Funding which had taken place at the last meeting.

The group saw content funding as fitting under the remit of an arms-length body and therefore noted it could be a function of a potential Journalism Foundation. However, the group did not think it would be appropriate for the working group itself to propose a specific programme of Content Funding.

It was considered that many areas such as education, health and agriculture are now under-reported.

The BBC Local Democracy Scheme ensured the BBC did not seek editorial control over the content produced. The group considered this would need to be ensured for any content funding scheme in Scotland. However, a Scottish scheme should be less complex.

The group considered that funding public interest journalism content can also occur by ensuring advertising support and tax breaks are there to allow publishers to make decisions relevant to their own landscapes.

Digital content was seen to favour larger scale or national news rather than local news. The group considered it would be useful for publishers to tell the foundation where gaps in content were, rather than a top-down approach.

Action: group to further consider content funding in discussion on the role of a Foundation.

Tax incentives

HP introduced the short paper on Tax Incentives which set out findings of the Australian Centre for International Economics Report on Tax Concessions for Public Interest Journalism.

SW explained to the group that tax incentives or tax relief are reserved to UK Government powers. The group considered it would still be useful to put forward recommendations for Scottish Government to represent ideas to UK Government.

It was considered that Tax Credits for Advertising would be a good way to encourage local businesses to support local publishers. This was thought to already be in consideration at DCMS.

The group suggested that discussion on tax credits would overlap with the upcoming discussion on community-led public interest journalism as a favourable tax environment was important in supporting local community initiatives.

It was suggested that Local Authorities might have some leeway in what is do-able in Scotland for local tax incentives.

Tax incentives were sometimes seen as incentives for big organisations but it would be important to ensure a tax friendly environment for small organisations. Small community start-ups would not find advertising tax incentives as helpful in the short term, so would need capital investment.

Advertising Tax Credits were seen to bring cash to publishers, stimulate local economy and support businesses in getting back on their feet. They would need to be as simple as possible to ensure they work for small publishers too.

It was suggested that if the group want to make a change on a reserved issue then they could ask the Scottish Government to communicate their recommendation to the UK Government. It was agreed that if the group decided to make a recommendation on tax incentives then making the case for the economic and social benefit it would bring would strengthen this. Further to this, the group felt that all recommendations should sit in the context of the benefit of public interest news to the economy, democracy and civil society.

Action: officials to provide clarity on whether Advertising Tax Credits would be reserved.

Big tech

SW left the meeting and RB recused himself before the discussion on Big Tech began.

The group were particularly keen to know what might impact smaller publishers who lacked a voice in the global discussions on Big Tech’s involvement.

It was suggested that the group may find it helpful to hear from a representative from Google or Facebook on this issue.

It was noted that a journalism foundation may be useful for negotiating deals with big tech companies as it provided a central point to start discussions and disperse funds.

The group agreed that this was a global issue. The group’s role in the bigger picture may be to raise awareness with Ministers of the negative impact of Big Tech on smaller publishers and the threat it poses to democracy and social capital.

Summary of actions

Group to further consider content funding in discussion on the role of a Foundation.

Officials to provide clarity on whether Advertising Tax Credits would be reserved.

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