Freedom of movement for journalists during COVID-19 lockdowns

Fiona Hyslop with FM Nicola Sturgeon, John Swinney and Bill Heaney.

 By Democrat reporter

The National Union of Journalists’ London office successfully lobbied hard for journalists to be included in the list of key workers.

However, instead of adopting the same definitions, the Scottish Government delegated decision making to local councils – something that would potentially mean that some journalists would need to seek approval from 32 different administrative areas.

The SNP appear to enjoy doing things the hard way.

After further lobbying, Fiona Hyslop MSP has replied to the NUJ’s Scottish Office, part of which is copied below: 

Thank you for your letter and for the work your members are doing to report news at this difficult time.

I would like to assure you that we expect our public authorities to allow journalists reporting on the current crisis to have the freedom of movement they require to do their important work. I have asked my officials to ensure that this is communicated to Police Scotland and the Chief Constable has highlighted that they will take a proportionate response.

However, we would ask in turn for all employers and journalists to be as robust as possible in ensuring that only those staff who are essential be asked to move around and not work from home.

In line with our guidance, I also expect those staff when working to observe compliant social distancing measures both inside and outside their place of work, in addition to the good hygiene guidelines, and would expect employers, supported by the NUJ, to take all necessary steps to make this possible. 

I would also encourage the use of local freelancers and where possible local media outlets, particularly in rural and island communities, to reduce the very high risk of transmission of COVID-19 through travel. 

One issue that remains is with ferry travel – with CalMac restricting their services to residents or “essential users”, meaning journalists are effectively not able to travel to significant parts of Scotland.

Bill Heaney, editor/proprietor of The Dumbarton Democrat, said: “This sounds like good news from the Government, although they have’t lifted their ban and boycott of this digital platform.

“Anyone who looks at our coverage will realise we are providing a vital service by keeping people involved and informed of events than the Council itself, which is spending nearly £500,000 a year of public money on a communications service, which doesn’t communicate.”

Mr Heaney, an award-winning journalist and former special adviser to the First Minister, is a Life Member of the NUJ and Editor Emeritus in the Society of Editors.

For a copy of the full letter, or for further advice, contact

One comment

  1. Could not agree more with the Editor when he refers to the Council spending £500,000 a year on communications.

    That is a lot of money for what in essence is propaganda on the rates. And for anyone else who provides media coverage, the slightest bit critical of the council, they get banned.

    That is an outrage and to my despair it is something the SNP councillors have allowed the council officers to do. But the SNP are only notionally in charge because it is the officers who actually in charge with the councillors tagging along like puppets on a string.

    So keep up the good work Editor. It takes effort to provide a community paper. Stay fair, don’t take sides, report it as you see it, and give fair criticism.

    The Democrat certainly doesn’t cost the ratepayer £500,000 a year. And as we move forward into the virus holocaust, wouldn’t you think it appropriate that the council would try to communicate with local media at this difficult time in stead of dinging it.

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