Scottish Government commits to bankrolling weekly newspapers
Ministers Kate Forbes and Aileen Campbell and Democrat editor Bill Heaney
By Democrat reporter
The Scottish Government is about to step in and assist cash-strapped smaller independent news providers and newspapers.
However, as seems to have happened with the coronavirus pandemic, that will be too little, too late and too slow for some publications, such as the West Highland Free Press, which has already gone out of business.
The Dumbarton Reporter has already appealed to its readers to rally round and support it during the lockdown and the Lennox Herald is part of the Reach group which has been forced to furlough staff for the duration.
Jackie Baillie MSP for Dumbarton, Vale of Leven and Helensburgh, said: “Our local newspapers such as the Dumbarton Reporter, the Lennox Herald and the Helensburgh Advertiser have always been trusted news sources for our local community. In these uncertain times, having easy access to credible reporting is vital.
“It would be terrible to see much loved and respected local titles disappear as a result of Covid-19.
“I have already written to the Scottish Government asking it to ensure that local newspapers are properly funded and supported during what is obviously an incredibly worrying time for the industry.”
Beatrice Wishart, pictured right, the LibDem MSP for the Shetland Islands, declared an interest before making a plea for cash to keep the local presses rolling.
And she declared an interest making MSPs aware that she has “a family connection with a local newspaper” – The Shetland Times.
She said: “Smaller independent news providers and local newspapers are trusted and essential sources of information for communities, and are especially valued for their coverage of the pandemic.
“Some local print newspapers have ceased publication because of the loss of advertising revenue.”
And she asked Aileen Campbell, the Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Local Government, for an assurance that the Scottish Government and its agencies are making full use of local media and community radio across Scotland for public health advertising and campaigns.
Ms Campbell said: “We recognise the need for good, reliable and trusted sources of news to enable our messages, including important public health messages, to be understood across the country, as well as the need to support those businesses as best we can.
“I am sure that they will have been able to access some of the [small business] packages that Kate Forbes [the Finance Secretary] has outlined.”
She added: “As an MSP, I have continued to advertise the presence of my office and its staff to support people in my constituency. All MSPs can make sure that we do that.
“The Government will continue to engage with Beatrice Wishart and other members who share her interest in the matter on how we can make sure that those very reliable and trusted sources of news can continue to feel supported.
“Those sources should also feel that they can access the support that we have put in place through the package of measures that I announced last month.
“There may be a need to consider third sector resilience funds or other funding streams and mechanisms that support community endeavours.
“It is not just the usual news titles that are suffering—I know that community papers are feeling pressured as well.
“I am willing to ensure that we work collaboratively across Government to make sure that all the efforts that we are making support news titles across the country.”
Finance Secretary Kate Forbes said: “I confirm that we are working closely with the Scottish Newspaper Society to look at how we can support the industry more widely.
“In discussions with the society this week, we agreed to advertise in our local papers a series of campaigns from the Scottish Government.
“All members should see those in their local papers in the coming week and beyond; they are a means of directly supporting local papers with a source of revenue.”
The Democrat is a free to access news and features platform, which gives advertising free of charge to local community groups.
Only last week, it had more than 6,000 “hits” in a single day.
The circulation of the Lennox Herald and Dumbarton Reporter, both of which were edited by Democrat owner/editor Bill Heaney during his 60-year career as a journalist, has, like so many other newspapers, local and national, slumped dramatically in recent years.
However, The Dumbarton Democrat, to give it its full title, is completely independent and wholly owned by Bill Heaney, who has won the Scottish Weekly Newspaper Journalist of the Year on at least three occasions and was a Special Adviser for a time in the First Minister’s Office in Edinburgh.
West Dunbartonshire Council and the SNP have censored, banned and boycotted The Democrat, which gives more coverage to local and national politics than any other news outlet in the area.
He said: “The SNP do not appear to believe in Freedom of the Press or the right of journalists to hold the local authority to account.
“It appears not to wish to be held to account on any account. If there are any democrats left in the Scottish Parliament, then they should bring this scandal to an end now.”