One of the National Union of Journalist's leading lights in Scotland, Joyce McMillan, has taken the Scottish media world somewhat by surprise by predicting 'mass redundancies' in Scotland this winter. She even revealed that the NUJ is already discussing and negotiating redundancy terms with some of Scotland's media organisations.
McMillan, a long-time columnist and theatre critic for The Scotsman
, who is chair of the NUJ's Edinburgh freelance branch, made the surprise revelation at the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee of the Scottish Parliament. According to Press Gazette, she told MSPs: 'There are fears some of the major commercial news providers could take the opportunity to cut more jobs if the end of the government's job retention scheme this month [October] means advertisers making their own cutbacks again'.
Press Gazette continued: 'McMillan told MSPs the union is already discussing and negotiating the terms of expected redundancies at some of Scotland's commercial news providers. She did not name any companies, but Reach, Newsquest, JPI Media and DC Thomson all own major Scottish titles (Daily Record
, The Herald
, The Scotsman
and the Press and Journal,
McMillan had warned: 'The great fear is that once the winter sets in, once the furlough support that many advertisers and so on have enjoyed begins to fade away, then there will be another round of mass redundancies among Scottish journalists. These are already being planned and discussed, and the union [NUJ] is already in there trying to negotiate the terms of them. Given how stripped down and how short of staff compared with a couple of decades ago most journalistic operations in Scotland are, the prospect of another round of redundancies this winter is a particularly alarming one… the idea of having less journalism and less investment in journalism is really quite a frightening one in this circumstance'.
McMillan said this was expected even though the picture for many regional titles has been 'a bit less one of complete gloom than some media were anticipating at the time', with advertising revenue holding up better than many had even hoped. However, she added: 'But in another sense there is every sign that most of the big players in commercial journalism are going to be using this opportunity to make yet more redundancies which is a really frightening prospect in terms of the quality and range of Scottish journalism'.
Dr Eamonn O'Neill, associate professor in journalism at Napier University, Edinburgh, told the committee that Scotland could see more 'news deserts' if job cuts continue, adding: 'You're not going to have a generation coming up that understands what journalism is'. This would lead to uninformed voters, he warned.
The committee were given the not-for-profit perspective, reported Press Gazette, by Peter Geoghegan, chairman of Scottish investigative journalism co-operative, The Ferret, and investigations editor at the Open Democracy website. He explained that both titles were protected from the reliance on advertising income that many publishers suffered from this year, and that although they hadn't 'grown massively', they had not retrenched either because they have longer-term funding. Their concerns now are how they may be affected if people's incomes become too squeezed – as they rely more on reader revenues, and what will happen to philanthropic organisations that provide grant funding if there were to be a 2008-level recession.
Geoghegan suggested that enabling more public interest journalism providers to be given charitable status 'would make it much easier for new organisations or not-for-profit organisations like The Ferret or community newspapers to be much more sustainable because charitable status is important for a lot of funders and has other advantages that we currently can't access'.
As I reported here last week
, the Charity Commission has given charitable status to the Public Interest News Foundation which its executive director, Jonathan Heawood, said could 'set a model' to show how more UK news organisations could successfully operate on a not-for-profit basis.
The BBC's new director-general, Tim Davie, has declared war on his presenters, and, indeed, all staff who make major breaches on social media of the corporation's impartiality guidelines. New rules, applying to all staff, are imminent, and Davie is even prepared to sack staff who persist in offending.
Davie put the contentious issue on a war footing in a speech to MPs serving on the House of Common's Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, declaring: 'I am prepared to take the appropriate disciplinary action – all the way to termination. Enforcement actions will be very clear; we will be able to take disciplinary action; we'll be able to take people off Twitter. I know people want to see hard action on this'.
Asked to clarify how people could be removed from Twitter, Davie said that in some cases he would ask staff to suspend their Twitter accounts if they wanted to continue working for the BBC. He told the MPs he wouldn't rush into far-reaching action, commenting: 'I know some people would like me to fire [people] immediately [when] there is a foot fault. I am sure over your career and my career, sometimes we have not acted perfectly. So there will be a range of enforcements. Sometimes someone just needs a talking to. Other times there will be more serious matters'.
Davie said his action would not depend on the stature of the star involved, but there would be a distinction between occasional contributors and those who are 'the face of the BBC. Social media guidelines will make clear where the lines are. If someone is a face of the BBC, I think entering into party politics seems to me not the right place to be'.
Asked specifically about Gary Lineker, the BBC's Match of the Day
host, who has courted controversy for sharing his political views on Twitter, Davie wryly commented that the sports presenter has 'always got a flavoursome turn of phrase'. Lineker, a freelance, who has 7.6 million Twitter followers, has declared he will not stop making his contributions, pointing out: 'I think only Twitter can take people off Twitter'. He responded to a Twitter follower who commented 'I can't see @garylineker swallowing this', with three laughing emojis.
Davie told the committee: 'What I would say is that Gary has said since – the thing is to judge us now as the BBC on what we tweet, how we tweet and our social media profile. I think Gary has been very clear. He has said that he is not concerned by what he said. You can let the man speak for himself. He said he understands his responsibilities as a person within the BBC'.
Davie went on: 'We will issue the social media guidelines which will be clear… I am the director-general so I am now running the show, and in my view, party political statements are not the right thing for people to be making if they are part of an impartial news organisation'. The new social media guidelines will cover people working in all areas of BBC programming, he added, explaining: 'The bar will be higher for news and current affairs, but there will also be a bar for those people working as BBC talent across the organisation, across genres'.
Lineker, 59, who earned £1.75 million from the BBC in the 2019-20 financial year, has agreed to take a £400,000 pay cut.
Charles Moore, 63, Boris Johnson's much-publicised preferred choice to be the new chairman of the BBC, has surprisingly withdrawn from the race – citing family reasons. It had been widely accepted that it was a done deal as Lord Moore, a former editor of the Daily
and Sunday Telegraph
and The Spectator
, the biographer of Margaret Thatcher, and a long-time critic of the BBC, was the man the government wanted to change the direction of the corporation and challenge the perceived left-wing, woke values and metropolitan bias of the broadcaster's staff and output.
Very strangely, Cabinet Office minister, Michael Gove, a former journalist who is reputed to be the government's man in the know on most things, on the very day Moore withdrew his candidature, praised him in the Mail on Sunday
as 'one of the most brilliant writers, journalists and thinkers in Britain today. He would want to make the BBC succeed'.
Meantime, Paul Dacre, 73, the former editor of the Daily Mail
for 26 years up to 2018, is understood to have been lined up by the Prime Minister to be the next chairman of media regulator, Ofcom. He will evidently accept the position once he gets assurances about freedom and independence.