It looks as if Scottish newspapers are definitely set to benefit from 100% business rates relief for a further year after the Scottish Government has indicated it plans to extend it along with other industries including retail, hospitality, leisure and aviation. This further rates relief is reckoned to be worth £4m to the Scottish newspaper industry.
The Scottish Government's Finance Secretary, Kate Forbes, has indicated that the rates relief will be granted ‘providing the UK Budget in March delivers the funding we require' – after MSPs warned a failure to extend the measure could prove the 'death knell' for the industry.
Forbes explains: 'When I presented our budget last month [January] I guaranteed to extend non-domestic rates relief further if I was given the necessary resources. I can now deliver on that promise, providing the UK budget in March delivers the funding we require'.
Her announcement was sweet music to the ears of John McLellan, director of the Scottish Newspaper Society (SNS), who commented: 'We are both delighted and also relieved that the Scottish Government has accepted the will of parliament and recognised the massive challenges facing independent news publishing in Scotland. This will go a long way to ensuring that titles, large and small, can survive what remains an extremely precarious financial landscape'.
The Scottish Government's announcement followed opposition MSPs backing a motion by Conservative MSP, Graham Simpson, calling for an extension to the 100% business rates relief to newspapers during 2021/22 instead of it ending this March. This measure was opposed by the SNP last year  but voted forward by the Scottish Parliament.
Conservative MSP, Maurice Golden, had urged the parliament this time round to think of the 3,000 people who are directly employed by the Scottish newspaper industry, pointing out: 'That is the number of people who face a direct threat to their jobs and will be worried about how they will support themselves and their families, and all because this SNP Government plans to cut off support when it is needed the most. That could be the death knell for the sector, and it is being done regardless of the value that the papers – especially the local ones – provide to their communities'. He added that extending rates relief could 'bring those papers back from the brink before they are lost forever'.
Seeking to amend Graham Simpson's motion, Ivan McKee, the Scottish Minister for Trade, Innovation and Public Finance, explained he wished to make the issue part of the ongoing budget process instead. He said the Scottish Government was against rates relief for newspapers because it is a 'blunt tool that does not provide targeted support to those that need it most, including local newspapers, and that it might provide the biggest benefit to those that need it least'.
He added: 'I note that the National Union of Journalists [NUJ] has called for support to go only to employers that are investing in their productions and not to those that are making redundancies, cutting pay, curtailing front-line journalistic roles, paying executive bonuses or blocking trade union organisation. Blanket rates relief would not meet the NUJ's criteria for protecting journalism'.
A Scottish Parliament working group is meantime considering the future of public interest journalism and it is due to report by the end of this summer.
A 'purge' of bad news stories on social media by regional daily, the Greenock Telegraph
, has prompted a surge in readers seeking help for mental health issues. Media industry website, HoldTheFrontPage (HTFP) had earlier reported how a number of Newsquest titles, led by the Greenock Telegraph
, had made their Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages 'good news-only' zones for 24 hours in a bid to promote awareness of positive mental health.
The initiative also saw the Greenock Telegraph
change its masthead for the day and run positive stories about local people overcoming struggles and adversity, with reporter Amy Shearer, who led the editorial around the campaign, writing about her own battle with bullying. Reports HTFP: 'Since the drive, the Greenock Telegraph's
newsroom has been contacted by a string of local mental health and counselling charities, who have reported a surge in demand for their services – and volunteers coming forward – thanks to the initiative'.
The Greenock daily's editor, Brian Hossack, told HTFP: 'We set out to smash the stigma of talking about mental health matters, using a number of fronts. We purged our social media channels to post only uplifting stories; signposted people to vital counselling services, charities and support groups; and highlighted lots of encouraging personal stories of people speaking out and overcoming adversity.
'We felt that if this made the difference for just one person then it would be worthwhile... but in the end it achieved so much more. The dedicated, hard-working local groups we are pleased to support and promote have since reported a surge of interest from people getting in touch, which we are thrilled about.'
Other Newsquest titles to support the initiative included the Dunfermline Press
Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) has been shortlisted for a major national award given by journalism trainers for its commitment to equality and diversity. GCU has been nominated for the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion award in this year's National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ) Awards for Excellence. Sharing the shortlist with GCU are the Academy for Disabled Journalists and the Sheffield daily newspaper The Star.
A record-breaking 417 entries were received across 15 categories in the NCTJ's Awards for Excellence, in addition to the students and trainees eligible for the student and trainee of the year awards. Ryan Hesketh, of Glasgow Caledonian University, is shortlisted in the Podcast Journalism (Student) category and Conor Matchett, of the Edinburgh Evening News
, in the Trainee of the Year category. The winners will be announced in March.
Meanwhile, the proportion of journalism students achieving industry 'gold standard' examination grades has increased, with the NCTJ announcing 71% of students sitting its Diploma in Journalism achieved the industry 'gold standard' A-C grades, compared with 66% the previous year.
There was further success for Glasgow Caledonian University with Eve Jarvis being one of 12 candidates rewarded for achieving the best results on the diploma course during 2019-20 – receiving a certificate and a cheque for £250 from the award sponsor to recognise her outstanding exam results.
Joanne Butcher, chief executive of the NCTJ, told Scottish Review
: 'The talent on this year's list of award winners deserve extra special recognition for their exceptional performance, achieved during their studies in a global pandemic. Passing with gold standard is challenging enough during the best of times: getting high percentage A grades and top shorthand speeds is a remarkable achievement in such difficult circumstances'.
Labour peer Lord Foulkes has written to the BBC's director-general Tim Davie to warn that if Nicola Sturgeon continues her daily television briefings on BBC 1 during the Holyrood election campaign, it will go against impartiality rules.
has pointed out: 'The Scottish Government's daily media conferences on the pandemic are fronted, most days, by Ms Sturgeon – to set out the latest news and issues around the fight against the virus and the vaccine rollout. But in the pre-election period, known as purdah, when Holyrood is dissolved and campaigning begins, restrictions are placed on what civil servants can do and the use of public resources'.
Recess at the Scottish Parliament is set to begin on 25 March – six weeks ahead of the election scheduled for 6 May, with no regular parliamentary business expected in between.
Sturgeon has already emphasised that 'what the BBC broadcasts is not a matter for me, it's a matter for the BBC'. She has already explained: 'At a time like this, I'm not going to stop doing my job because it is really important as we steer the country through this pandemic'.
Sturgeon added: 'I am not going to stop doing my job for as long as I'm in this job that I'm doing. How people report that and how people take account of the election campaign, I'm sure will become clearer as we go on. We're not there yet. We're in this pandemic, we're undertaking a massive logistical exercise with the vaccination programme – that will continue to be what I focus on'.
In his letter to Tim Davie, Lord Foulkes highlights that Sturgeon has been stressing 'it is up to the BBC whether to continue broadcasting' her daily briefings. He told Davie: 'This would be totally against both BBC and Ofcom rules on impartiality, and I urge you to now intervene personally and immediately to make it clear this is not going to continue'.