Fiona Hyslop, Nicola Sturgeon, John Swinney and Jim Mather.
By the Editor
Crocodile tears rolled down the faces of a number of members of the Scottish Parliament today when it was announced that The Buteman, the local newspaper for Argyll and Bute, had closed. Green MSP John Finnie told parliamentarians that they would have heard by now “the sad news that publication of The Buteman is to cease this month, 165 years after it commenced.
“The newspaper’s journalism jobs left the Isle of Bute some time ago, but the need for local news has not. Will the Deputy First Minister advise how the Scottish Government can support local journalism, particularly in our island communities?”
Education Minister John Swinney replied: “I was very sorry to hear the news about The Buteman, which, as Mr Finnie has said, has had a long and distinguished history and is part of the firmament of local newspapers that faithfully report activities and initiatives the length and breadth of the country.
“Such matters obviously involve private companies, but the Scottish Government is happy to engage in wider work in that respect.
“Last weekend, the Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs, Fiona Hyslop, was involved in discussions on the role of journalism in our society, and she made the point that we all rely on having a free and open press to ensure that there is proper reflection of local priorities and appropriate discussion of national, political and wider societal issues.
“The Government greatly supports the activities of local newspapers and is happy to provide—as it often does—lots of news for local newspapers to report on.”
They don’t. Indeed, they don’t even allow the press access to ask questions of officials and insist that everyone goes through their spin doctors, even for Freedom of Information requests.
And they are content to see newspapers which are full of press releases containing statements which go unchallenged.
It is not exclusively fake news, however. Theirs is a world that Donald Trump would like to adopt in the White House.
But the American public who value their democratic rights would never stand for it. And they proved it when Trump ordered a journalist out of a press conference.
That journalist was soon back in his seat.
Politicians have no great love for newspapers as demonstrated by the SNP and West Dunbartonshire Council who have banned and boycotted this digital platform, The Dumbarton Democrat.
And little wonder since it’s a real journalist’s job to find out when elected representatives and public officials are being economical with the truth.
Which is not unheard of in these parts.
Or when they are hiding something that should be out there in the public domain.
That great journalist, HL Mencken was the Bad Boy of Baltimore, the American iconoclast who said the relationship between journalists and politicians should be the same as that between a dog and a lamp post.
It was Mencken who also said: “News is something that someone somewhere does not want to see printed. All the rest is merely advertising.”
By banning and boycotting The Democrat, built on a 21st century, digital platform, the SNP (and the Council officials) have shown they are prepared to pay no more than lip service to Freedom of the Press.
I will go even further and say that the SNP government is to blame for the imminent demise of the local newspaper industry.
Before I do, however, let me say that I attended a meeting some years ago called by the SNP government in Montrose House in Glasgow.
It was “a consultation” between the SNP Enterprise Minister, Jim Mather, and newspaper editors and owners.
Mather was responding to an outcry from newspapers which were already feeling the effects of the government at local and national level having withdrawn its advertising of public notices.
They said they had gone over to the internet to save public money even though it was generally recognised that a large percentage of people who were not IT literate would never be able to access that information.
Mather promised to go back to St Andrew’s House and relay the message to Alec Salmond, who did nothing about it.
It slipped down the agenda in similar manner to The Buteman which is now sliding unceremoniously into Rothesay harbour and will be missed by the old folk who love it.
The politicians here are cowards. The officials are ill-advised and inexperienced and frankly stupid in taking their lead on this from the current Council leader.
How can the local SNP possibly justify these fine sounding words from John Swinney and Fiona Hyslop about how important the local press is and at the same time support this boycott?
Readers who object to the boycott should send an e mail to Cllr Jonathan McColl and copy it in to Joyce White, the Council chief executive.
Daily Business report by Terry Murden
Weekly newspaper The Buteman will publish its final edition later this month, ending almost 165 years of serving the Isle of Bute.
It is understood its circulation has fallen below 550 and its owner JPIMedia believes the title, first published in December 1854, is no longer sustainable.
No jobs will be lost as its sole reporter Kevin Quinn and editor, Janet Bee, are based in Edinburgh where they work for other titles in the group. Ms Bee looks after 21 weekly titles.
Questions will be asked if having its staff based at the other side of Scotland has contributed to its failure. In 2017 local councillor Robert MacIntyre claimed that as few as four pages were devoted to local news each week with the rest of the 24-page paper filled with content from the company’s other Scottish titles.
JPI Media, which publishes The Scotsman and other Scottish titles including the Falkirk Herald, took over the titles last year when it acquired the assets of Johnston Press from the administrators.
As revealed by Daily Business, the Edinburgh offices of JPIMedia are to be reduced from two floors to one as staff levels are reduced and investment is focused on its digital platforms.