By Hamish Mackay in the Scottish Review
The UK Government’s Culture Secretary, Nadine Dorries, has given the newspaper industry a massive confidence boost during Journalism Matters Week – declaring that the public and the British Government should support ‘our world-renowned news industry’ by buying newspapers or using news media websites. And she significantly outlined how the industry would be helped by the provisions of the Online Safety Bill which is currently going through parliament.
Outspoken Dorries, 64, a best-selling author and former nurse who grew up on a council house estate in Liverpool, was speaking to the News Media Association (NMA), the trade body which styles itself as ‘the voice of national, regional and local news media organisations in the UK’, and runs the annual Journalism Matters campaign.
Dorries declared: ‘Journalism matters. That’s the theme of this national campaign to celebrate the role a free press plays in British society, and it is a powerful statement of fact. But why? It’s not just so we can have something entertaining to read with our morning bowl of cornflakes. Our democracy relies on it. Good journalism exposes wrongdoing and injustice; it scrutinises people in power; and it champions and celebrates good causes’.
Dorries, whose ministerial role at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) includes responsibility for delivering government policy on communications and the media, pointed out that at the heart of our news industry are local newspapers – bringing the public trusted local news and information.
She explained: ‘Their papers – like the Bedford Times & Citizen in my own constituency [she has been MP for Mid Bedford since 2005] – are the pillars of their communities. They keep us in the loop with the stories that impact our day-to-day lives – from council or court decisions to the rise and fall of local sports teams. I want to pay tribute to the people who keep those newspapers in print. They work incredibly hard – and not always in the easiest of circumstances – to keep us informed and entertained.
‘Their work has become even more important in the internet age. Every day, we all go online and check our Facebook feeds, or scroll through Twitter or Instagram. Each time we do so, we can be exposed to worrying misinformation such as COVID-19 vaccine conspiracy theories.
‘Now more than ever we need properly sourced, robustly researched journalism,’ she stressed, explaining: ‘According to Ofcom, around two-thirds of people feel that the news they consume from print newspapers is just that: trustworthy, high-quality, and accurate. Journalists are our first line of defence in the fight against fake news.
‘We backed news publishers last year with a £35 million public information campaign during the pandemic – pumping vital advertising revenue into publishing. We issued guidance to local authorities to allow newspaper deliveries to continue; zero-rated VAT on e-newspapers to make it easier for people staying at home to read their daily paper; and have extended business rates relief for local newspaper offices in England for an additional five years so that they can keep more of their hard-earned income.’
Dorries pointed out: ‘All of that has helped our newspapers get through COVID-19. But we have got to look to the future. We are living in a digital age, and one of the biggest issues in my in-tray as Culture Secretary is making sure big social media platforms protect their users from danger online, including misinformation’.
And she explained, very importantly: ‘We have introduced a trailblazing Online Safety Bill that will make us one of the first countries in the world to force tech companies to clean up their sites. But, crucially for journalists, that bill will also prevent social media firms from arbitrarily taking down content from respected news organisations.
‘And, even better, it includes extremely important protections and exemptions for journalists, so that we can protect their free speech while forcing social media platforms to police their sites properly.
‘We have also got to make sure news publishers and big tech compete on an even playing field – and we have set up a new competition unit charged with making sure the most powerful tech giants do not abuse their dominance to disadvantage businesses that rely on them.
‘In government we are doing all we can to help back our brilliant journalists to go about their jobs without fear or favour… you can do the same – by picking up a paper or visiting the websites of our world-renowned news industry.’
- In West Dunbartonshire, however, the local council and the SNP are doing everything in their power to gag The Democrat, which they have banned and boycotted for three years for asking for better accress to important information for the press and public. Having heard the evidence before the Select Committee on Racism in Cricket in the House of Comons yesterday, we are convinced this amounts to discrimination by the SNP and failure on the part of the SNP to make progress in resolving this affront to democracy. Editor