In our opinion: The press? Democracy?

OF course, newspaper leaders have concentrated more on the democracy argument when it comes to arguing against a proposal – from the Scottish Government – that local authorities have the discretion to switch public notices from newspapers to the internet.

They are absolutely correct. People are unlikely to stumble across that notice affecting their street while browsing the internet, when they might just when idly flicking through the pages of their local newspaper. And not everyone has a computer or an internet connection.

Much less convincing would have been the argument that public notices equals cash and to remove notices from newspapers would mean the possible financial ruin of some local newspapers. Less convincing, not because it’s less likely to happen – because there is a real risk it could – but because newspapers are commercial organisations, with shareholders to please.

Although there’s nothing new about commercial organisations benefitting from a government hand-out, newspapers have editorial independence to consider, even if, in the real world, it is not always entirely purely operated. Who’s to say any subsidy wouldn’t end up immediately in the pockets of shareholders?

And it seems that the democracy argument has won out, if a debate in the Scottish Parliament on Thursday morning is anything to go by.

Following two hours of impressive, erudite arguments, MSPs signalled their disquiet, though the proposal has yet to be presented to them for a formal vote.

But before the newspaper industry gets too excited by developments these last few days, it might care to consider the implications of appearing to be so wedded to the idea of democracy. It’s not that newspapers are, usually, that concerned about political neutrality, giving each political viewpoint a ‘fair crack of the whip’.

But by appearing to be such cheerleaders now for democracy, to behave otherwise in the coming weeks and months would look awfully like it was only the money they were after, all along.