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Public Interest Journalism Working Group minutes: March 2021

Minutes from the meeting of the group on 3 March 2021.

Public Interest Journalism Working Group minutes: March 2021

Attendees and apologies

Attendees:

  • Stuart Birkett, Highland News and Media (SB)
  • Simon Cuthbert-Kerr, Scottish Government (SCK) (Chair)
  • Hazel Parkinson, Scottish Government (HP)
  • India Divers, Scottish Government (ID)
  • 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)
  • Allan Rennie, University of Stirling (AR)
  • John Toner, NUJ (JT)
  • Frances Rafferty, NUJ (FR)
  • Denise West, DC Thomson (DW)

Items and actions

Welcome and introduction 

The meeting was chaired by SCK. The group agreed he would continue to chair meetings going forward. A list of attendees is at Annex A.

Two new officials, HP and ID have joined the Scottish Government Creative industries and Media Policy Team. They will form the secretariat for this group. 

FR from the National Union of Journalists joined the group.

In response to the action from the last meeting to broaden the representation of the group, a colleague from Black Ballad and a colleague from Greater Govanhill community magazine have been invited to join the group. Their membership was not able to be confirmed before this meeting.

Apologies were noted from Richard Bogie and Hans Marter.

Action:

  • it was agreed that biographies of new members would be shared with the group via the circulation of an updated version of the remit

Note of last meeting 

The Chair asked for any comment on the note of the last meeting.

It was agreed that the remit and membership of the group would be published on the Scottish Government website, alongside meeting minutes, after being signed off by the group.

The note of the last meeting was approved.

Action:

  • the action note from meeting 1 would be published on the SG website

Agree remit for group 

The Chair advised that the purpose of today’s meeting would be primarily to discuss the themes agreed at the first meeting, and to decide how these would be taken forward. The themes which would be discussed were:

  • funding models for public interest journalism
  • development of audience for public interest journalism
  • enabling and supporting community-led public interest journalism

Discussion on paper on how Australia regulate the use of news by tech companies and how Norway support public interest journalism 

ID spoke to the paper, highlighting key ideas. The group agreed the paper wa s useful in setting out how other countries managed these issues.

JH described his engagement with NZ On Air, which was unlike anything in the UK. NZ on Air had advised that they would be happy to talk to the working group about what they do. The group agreed this would be useful.

The group noted that the reformed legislation in Australia had ended up different from the initial proposal and that it could allow Facebook and Google to pay to be free of any requirements. The group felt that the principles of the original Australian model had been solid but that the amendments had meant there would be little real change.

It was suggested that other models could be explored. Negotiating deals between publishers and tech giants was only one potential route. It was noted that there is a wider debate to be had around new legislation, the open internet, charging for links etc. 

Discuss potential funding models for public interest journalism 

It was noted that direct government subsidies for public interest journalism are not without issues, but the paper discussed at the previous agenda item demonstrated that it was possible. 

The group noted that the industry and political landscapes were different in countries which received government subsidies for public interest journalism. The group decided not to discard international examples and agreed it might be useful to explore the New Zealand case study in further detail, as it was an English-speaking country with a similar population.

The group noted the value of direct government advertising, as the Scottish Government had put in place early in the pandemic. However, some noted concerns that this approach would not necessarily reach all media outlets; for example, the Ferret did not have advertising. 

It was noted that discussion on potential funding models was not just about the role of the state. Other forms of funding such as philanthropy could be included in discussions.

It was raised that the Scottish Government subsidises theatre and film at arms-length and those sectors are not constrained in what they produce as a result of this. It was suggested that this illustrates that it is possible to create a funding model with precautions built in.

The plurality of the Scottish media was noted and the group agreed different solutions would be needed for different types of media. It is important to look at all angles and consider if it suits everyone.  

The question was asked if the focus of discussion on funding models should be for short-term Covid related solutions or medium to long–term solutions. It was decided that the group could look at both if they felt it was relevant.

There was discussion about Gaelic language media and it was suggested that it would be useful for SG officials to speak to relevant colleagues. 

Action: SG officials to speak to Gaelic language colleagues regarding Gaelic language media as a form of public interest journalism in relation to linguistic preservation.

It was noted that Covid-19 business support from the Scottish Government had not included newspapers as ‘businesses’ and that this could have been an issue.

The group agreed that they should form their recommendations on the basis of what they think is needed for public interest journalism to be sustainable. 

It was considered important for the group to define exactly what they mean by public interest and professional journalism. The group noted the importance of communicating to Ministers what would happen if quality public interest journalism was lost. 

The group saw the importance of valuing the service that public interest journalism provides the community, and not solely valuing creators of public interest journalism based on profit and size. Research on the value of public interest news and community involvement could be undertaken by the group.

Action:

  • at a future stage, arguments and evidence to be gathered by the group to inform people of the value of public interest journalism

The group felt they needed one or two meetings revolving around this theme alone. The group decided that because this theme on public funding models was so central to the group’s work and sparked so much interest, it should be the focus of the next meeting and the group can then decide how they want to look at the other themes. 

Action:

  • the group agreed to consider the theme of funding in more detail before addressing the other themes

How do we develop an audience for public interest journalism?

JM set out her proposal for a journalism foundation. This could help support a more informed and critically engaged audience, particularly to help combat disinformation. It was suggested that other sector models, such as the arts, might offer how it could be done.

Different ways of funding a journalism foundation were discussed, such as through liaising with education, fundraising for hyperlocal journalism.

The question of the purpose of a foundation was raised. It was thought that it could be multi-faceted. It could look at issues such as media literacy and diversity. The potential interaction between existing journalism courses, the wider sector and education at a young age was raised. It was suggested that media literacy could be important to the work of the group as it is important to teach people where to find quality journalism.

The example of the Centre of Community Journalism at Cardiff University was highlighted. A free resource was created for a 10-week programme for every key stage level of the curriculum to teach pupils media literacy. The group wondered if something similar could be applied in Scotland.

It was suggested that the role of a foundation could be to act as a forum to continue to discuss important strands, advocate for public interest journalism, roll out educational materials, provide training on journalism, and provide grants.

It was decided that item 7 on the agenda, how to enable and support community-led public-interest journalism, would be discussed at a future meeting due to time constraints.

The Chair thanked attendees for the interesting discussions. The secretariat would be in touch to schedule the next meeting through correspondence. As discussed, it was likely that the next meeting would focus in depth on potential funding models, before any kind of working groups were set up.

Action: SG officials to propose date of next meeting through correspondence.

Agreed actions

  • SG officials to ask members how frequently the group needs to meet
  • SG officials to send out updated remit and minutes and upload the note of the meeting to the SG website
  • SG official to upload the action note from meeting 1 online
  • the theme of potential funding models for public interest journalism is to be discussed as plenary instead of in sub-groups
  • at a future stage, arguments and evidence to be gathered by the group to inform people of the value of public interest journalism
  • item 7 of the agenda, how to enable and support community-led public interest journalism should be discussed at a future meeting
  • SG officials to circulate note of meeting to attendees for agreement
  • SG officials to propose date of next meeting through correspondence