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Online publishers ‘must be included in support for media’

Online news: any support should embrace the whole media sector

Daily Business has called for any government support for the media to be extended to online publications which are sharing the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Scottish Conservatives finance spokesman Donald Cameron has urged Finance Secretary Kate Forbes to work with the UK Government to ensure the survival of the regional media.

His comments come as various newspaper groups, including the owners of Daily Record, The Herald and The Scotsman, cut salaries and furlough hundreds of advertising and editorial staff. Some newspaper titles have halted printing for the duration of the virus lockdown.

The Conservatives say the vital role played by the country’s “trusted traditional press” was clearer than ever as the coronavirus crisis continues.

Mr Cameron said a 100% rates holiday was “essential”, and that the Scottish Government should direct more advertising, including health messages, in the direction of newspapers. He said most of that is online to companies who are ultimately based overseas.

He also suggested investing in a similar scheme to the Danish government, which has introduced a fund for media organisations during the crisis.

A similar initiative by the Scottish Government could be replicated for around £25 million.

A trusted media loan scheme has also been floated, which established titles could sign up to.

As well as providing a vital public service, news publishing supports around 4,000 jobs in Scotland, he said.

Donald Cameron

Donald Cameron: ‘crucial role’

“We are seeing throughout the coronavirus crisis just how vital newspapers and broadcast media are,” said Mr Cameron.

“They play a crucial role in holding both the Scottish and UK governments to account, and in carrying vitally important public health messages.

“But these are also publications who, in some cases, are a month away from collapse.

“We simply cannot allow this industry to disappear, and the Scottish Government needs to step in and ensure these publications are supported.

“It should be providing support in the form of a rates holiday, and channelling more of its considerable advertising budget in the direction of the local press.

“It would be extremely regrettable if newspapers, having played such a critical role during this health and economic emergency, were allowed to collapse immediately afterwards.

“We know papers have been struggling for years, but this could be a chance to finally boost their resources and ensure they can continue operating for generations to come.”

Many of the newspaper titles have shared a surge in online traffic in the past few weeks as people stay at home. However, this traffic is not translated into a similar surge in advertising revenue. Many websites are free to access so the media groups do not make up for lost revenue from cover prices.

Daily Business editor Terry Murden said government support for the media was a sensitive issues as there should be a clear distinction between the two, with no opportunity for government to use any financial support to influence the direction of the press.

Terry Murden
Terry Murden: support

“However, we are in difficult times and support for the media via advertising is certainly nothing new,” he said.

“If support was to go further, in the form of rates relief or loan schemes, then it should be extended to the whole of the media, not just to newspapers.

“There is a lot of concern over the future of the printed media, but newspapers also publish their content online and are in direct competition with other online publishers which face the same cost and revenue pressures.

“Mr Cameron talks about how vital ‘newspapers’ are in times such as this, but it is the whole of the media that is vital, not just print which is in rapid decline as a format. Many of the younger, and even older generation never buy newspapers and access all their news online.

“Any support from politicians must therefore embrace the media sector in its entirety. It is bad enough that BBC Scotland remains stuck in the media dark ages with its regular promotion of printed media, even at a time of a fast-developing news agenda which is being consumed by the vast majority of readers online.”



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