A burgeoning West of Scotland community news website, run by one of Scotland's best-known journalists, Bill Heaney, is involved in a most almighty stramash with the Scottish National Party. The SNP, at West Dunbartonshire Council, Scottish Parliament and Westminster level, is accused by Heaney of refusing to recognise the legitimacy of The Dumbarton Democrat
(www.democratonline.net), a news-providing digital platform, which he founded, owns and edits, and of bidding to put it out of business.
West Dunbartonshire Council leader, Jonathan McColl, whose SNP group control the 22-seat council with 10 seats, says Heaney has been banned from the press benches within the council chamber for 'failing to follow basic press codes of conduct'. Heaney, an award-winning journalist, who has been in the newspaper business since 1960, claims McColl has been instrumental in having The Dumbarton Democrat
banned and boycotted by the SNP in an effort to put it out of business. He resolutely denies any accusations of unprofessional conduct within the council chamber and now watches proceedings from the public gallery when he attends council meetings.
And he claims that now, when he visits the council's premises, he is always accompanied by a council officer. Although there are a number of other claims and counter-claims, further accusations from both sides, and much heat engendered in this ongoing saga, the Scottish Review
seeks to give a balanced report by strictly sticking to the issue of Heaney's perceived ill-treatment from the council in his journalistic role, and especially from McColl, and whether press freedom is at stake in West Dunbartonshire Council's chambers.
Heaney, 74, claims the reason McColl gives for his action in having him banned from council meetings is that he (Heaney) had asked Provost William Hendrie, during an interval in a council meeting last year, if the volume of the internal PA system could be turned up and asked if a proper press bench could be made available so that journalists could see, hear and report on what was going at meetings.
Heaney told Scottish Review
: 'My request led to me being surrounded by four council officials, including the chief executive officer, Joyce White, and press officer, Amanda Graham, and escorted from the council chamber. Subsequently The Dumbarton Democrat
has been removed from the council's media list for press releases, and I am no longer invited to cover council events. I am banned, in my journalistic capacity, from the press bench within the council chamber, and I have to watch proceedings from the public gallery.
'The SNP are upset because I used my column in The Dumbarton Democrat
to criticise the layout of the council chamber, which has only recently been refurbished and redesigned at a cost of £16.7m, within the old Burgh Hall. I also wrote that the council headquarters, which has been given an architectural award, is not fit for purpose... How could it be fit for purpose if the press and public cannot see or hear what is happening within the council chamber? That is the whole purpose of a council chamber – to let the public see and hear what is being done in their name and by whom.
'The council's move against The Dumbarton Democrat
is wholly anti-democratic. There has not been a motion before the council to ban either my website or me as its editor. I have complained to Scotland's First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, about the council's serious attack on press freedom, but I did not receive a reply. I am totally dismayed by what has happened. The other political parties on West Dunbartonshire Council appear to accept this attempt to shut down legitimate discussion and criticism of the council's services.'
The remaining parties on the council are: Labour (8), Conservative (2), Community Party (1) and Independent (1).
Heaney had been Weekly Newspaper Journalist of the Year three times at the Scottish Press Awards during his editorship of the Dumbarton-based Lennox Herald
weekly. He has also edited a number of other local newspapers and acted as a special adviser on the regional press to former Scottish First Minister, Henry McLeish.
Heaney has sympathised with local businesses and public bodies being affected by the COVID-19 outbreak – offering a free advertising service to all businesses within West Dunbartonshire, Dumbarton, Vale of Leven, Helensburgh and Lomond. He told Scottish Review
'The council has gone out of its way to put The Dumbarton Democrat
out of business and insisted we have to become members of the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO), which is the body that replaced the Press Council. This would cost a considerable amount of money which I simply cannot afford.
The fact that I am a life member of the National Union of Journalists and an Editor Emeritus of the Society of Editors cuts no ice with the council. They are determined to see the back of us'.
Edinburgh-born journalist, Iona Bain, is in the running for a major honour in this year's National Press Awards. She is on the shortlist for the coveted Women in Journalism's Georgina Henry Prize for Digital Innovation, along with Dr Frances Ryan, Lizzy Dening and Megan Lucero.
Iona trained as a musician at City of Edinburgh Music School before reading music at Christchurch College, Oxford University, between 2006 and 2009. After graduating with a 2.1, she moved to Glasgow to embark on a career as a full-time musician and music journalist. However, Iona switched careers because she was struggling to make a living as a musician and wanted to learn more about personal finance. Moving to London, in 2011 she launched her Young Money Blog
, initially in her spare time. She worked in several roles in financial media to learn more about money and journalism, from working as a reporter on financial trade publications to being a presenter and producer on a radio show – moving between full-time roles, freelance shifts and one-off commissions.
By 2016, in tandem with the publication of her first book, Spare Change
, the first millennial money handbook published in the UK, her blog began gaining much more traction and after an extended stint writing for The Times
, she is carving out a career as a speaker, journalist, broadcaster and commentator – specialising in young personal finance, and has written extensively for the Financial Times
She was named IPSE's Freelancer of the Year in 2018 and is currently writing her second book, Own It
. She has also set up the Young Money Agency with her father, Simon Bain. Simon retired four years ago after 30 years in journalism, latterly as personal finance editor and business correspondent at The Herald
. Iona now splits her time between London and Kent, and contributes to The Herald
, The Scotsman
and the Scottish Sun
, and regularly features on BBC Radio Scotland.
The UK Government's Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, is stressing that local newspapers are 'absolutely vital' in reporting key messages to help save lives during the COVID-19 pandemic. He has called for clarity and guidance to be issued 'to make sure it is understood that newspaper deliveries can – and should – still take place. Home deliveries are an important part of this battle to keep people self-isolating. It is possible to deliver newspapers safely'.
Dr Hilary Jones told Good Morning Britain
that 'if someone physically picks them [newspapers] up and delivers them to a doorstep or letterbox, it's safe'. Virologist, George Lomonossoff, explains: 'Newspapers are pretty sterile because of the way they are printed… all of the ink and the print makes them actually quite sterile. The chances of catching the virus from a newspaper are infinitesimal'.
Eligible freelance journalists and photographers are able to claim up to 80% of their earnings (up to £2,500 per month) in a cash grant from the Government. However, they will not get the first payment until the beginning of June – backdated to March. They can claim the grant while continuing to work. Anyone with an immediate cash flow problem should access Universal Credit.
JPIMedia has postponed a major newsroom restructure at its Scottish publications, aimed at focusing on digital journalism, due to the COVID-19 outbreak. It has also suspended its search for a replacement for its editorial director in Scotland, Frank O'Donnell, who is due to leave in May to become editor-in-chief of the Press and Journal
) and Evening Express
in Aberdeen. Instead, staff working at the larger Scottish titles will now be placed under an 'interim structure' headed by Joy Yates, JPIMedia's editorial director in the north-east of England.
Briefly: Former deputy editor of the Southern Daily Echo
, Chris Barrett, has died in hospital in Southampton, two days after being diagnosed with COVID-19; the pandemic has led to BBC News
delaying plans to achieve savings of £40m by a restructuring programme which threatens to cost 450 journalists their jobs; RT (formerly Russia Today
radio station) has lost a High Court challenge against Ofcom over a £200,000 fine for impartiality breaches, including two by former MP, George Galloway.