Public Interest Journalism Working Group recommendations: Scottish Government response

Our response to the short-life Public Interest Journalism Working Group recommendations set out in its report: Scotland's News - towards a sustainable future for public interest journalism.

Introduction/Ministerial Foreword

The media landscape of Scotland and the world is changing. Led by the rise of digital technology, the way we access our news and information on a day-to-day basis has transformed in the last 20 years. While many news publishers have successfully adapted their offer to the online sphere, it's clear that new platforms and opportunities also give rise to new and unprecedented challenges which we, both in industry and Government, must meet head on.

As articulated in the Public Interest Journalism Working Group's report, the shift in the media landscape over the past 20 years has had a profound impact on newspaper circulation figures – according to Press Gazette, UK national newspaper sales have fallen by nearly two thirds over the last two decades[1]. New challenges have arisen around monetising online content, due to audience expectations that online news should be free to access. This has made it even more difficult for high quality news publishers to survive. In addition, it can be difficult for trustworthy, high-quality news sources to attract audiences and build trust in a landscape which is shared by a vast number of news sources, generated by both professional and amateur journalists, as well as bad actors determined to spread misinformation, disinformation and clickbait.

In recent years, the Covid-19 pandemic has arguably accentuated these existing challenges, leaving the sustainability of public interest journalism in a precarious position. This is why the short-life Public Interest Journalism Working Group was established in January 2021 by my predecessor, Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Fair Work and Culture, to consider the long-term sustainability of public interest journalism in Scotland and recommend ways to ensure its ongoing resilience and relevance.

In the 2021 Programme for Government document we outlined two commitments: the first to listen and respond to the recommendations of the Public Interest Journalism Working Group, and the second to ensure journalism in Scotland remains transparent and strong, as a key element of Scottish democracy. I am delighted to have received the recommendations from the Working Group and I would like to take this opportunity thank the members for their hard work in developing the recommendations within this report.

It is a free, independent and strong press which upholds a democratic society, as well as providing us with high-quality, reliable news and information, and that is why we must ensure the longevity, independence and strength of public interest journalism in Scotland. The recommendations set out in the Working Group's report helps articulate the challenges facing public interest journalism in Scotland and offers a range of actions to address those challenges.

As a former journalist, I have first-hand knowledge of the importance of a thriving, free, and independent public interest journalism sector as a bedrock of a well-functioning democracy. It is right that this report has been produced by an independent working group of journalists, as the separation between the news media and the state is fundamental to ensuring journalism can do its job and hold power, including the government, to account. I am committed to supporting a free, independent and strong press and to ensuring its long-term sustainability in Scotland. This report is an excellent step in that ongoing journey.

I warmly welcome the Working Group's report and recommendations. The report is thorough, well-researched, and the recommendations are extremely pertinent to the challenges facing the sector, providing thoughtful and innovative solutions.

In my response below, I set out in full the Scottish Government's answer to each of the recommendations and how we intend to progress work to support the sustainability of public interest journalism in Scotland, in partnership with industry.

I anticipate that the Working Group's report will provide a solid starting point for discussion and debate in our news industry, and more widely, around the future of public interest journalism in Scotland. Furthermore, I am optimistic that the report and the response below will ignite a series of actions across industry to firmly secure a sustainable future for our public interest journalism sector. The working group's proposal for a public interest journalism institute is one which I and Scottish Government wholeheartedly support, while remaining respectful of the necessary independence required. As a politician and a Minister I recognise where our potential involvement might be limited by the scope of our powers, or be seen to encroach on the industry's independence and credibility, and so I have outlined below how we will work with the news publishing industry to propel this innovative idea forward.

I would encourage all those working within Scotland's news publishing sector, as well as the public, to read, consider, and enthusiastically debate both the working group's innovative and dynamic ideas and recommendations and my response. I very much look forward to being a part of this debate and I am eager to see how these conversations and actions progress in the near future, to strengthen and support Scotland's vital public interest journalism sector.

Angus Robertson, Cabinet Secretary for Constitution, External Affairs and Culture



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