MPs voice ‘concern’ over councils moving job ads away from Scottish newspapers

A SHIFT of local authority job adverts from newspapers to a dedicated website run by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities has been recognised by MPs as a threat to the viability of Scottish newspapers.

Says ‘Crisis in the Scottish Press’, issued today by the Scottish Affairs Committee, concerns also extend to a possible move away of local authority public notices to the internet, despite not everyone having access to the internet.

The MPs heard evidence from Paul Holleran, Scottish Organiser at the National Union of Journalists; Stephen Boyd, of the Scottish TUC; Professor Neil Blain, from Stirling University; and Martin Boyle, from Cardonald College.

It also heard from Mark Hollinshead, MD of Trinity Mirror’s nationals division; Michael Johnston, MD Scotsman Publications; John McLellan, editor-in-chief, Scotsman Publications; Tim Blott, MD of The Herald and Evening Times group; and Jim Raeburn, director, Scottish Daily Newspaper Society.

It noted that 32 Scottish local authorities had moved their job ads to the CoSLA website, with an estimated initial saving of £5million. This was on top of declining newspaper sales and a drop in other forms of advertising.

The committee also noted that local authority public notices might also be headed for the internet – saving an estimated £10million – even though, for example, only 32 per cent of people in Glasgow have access to broadband.

Says the report: “Whilst it is understandable that local authorities will want to reduce costs in the current economic climate, there are concerns that advertising jobs on public sector portals only was likely to limit the field of applicants to those already in the public sector rather than the wider audience of traditional print media.

“We are concern at suggestions of a move to publish public notices on public sector portals whilst broadband take-up remains relatively low in some areas of Scotland. We would ask the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and the Scottish Executive to produce evidence that substantial parts of the population would not be excluded before removing public notices entirely from print media.”

The report also lent its support to a possible relaxation of merger rules involving media groups and urged the National Union of Journalists to publish, as soon as possible, the results of an an audit it has set up, to look at stress among journalists.

The NUJ welcomed the report. It said: “Employers should recognise the links between making journalists redundant, falling quality and the drop in circulations and advertising.

“Managements of the Scottish newspaper groups should all show commitment to health and safety and act on increased stress levels which have been exposed in the NUJ health and safety surveys.

“Local and national governments and the newspaper industry must work together to ensure a balance in public sector advertising between the internet and print.

Added Holleran: “The exercise has been most worthwhile in highlighting the problems of our industry. The Scottish Affairs Committee has, in their conclusions and recommendations, successfully identified a number of issues of concern and are seeking action, which I warmly welcome.

“In line with their concerns we have no doubt the attempts to restructure the newsrooms and merge editorial staff has and will further put at risk the industry’s ability to deliver the high level quality of journalism that the public deserve.

“The employers say they are committed to quality but also say it will depend on what they can afford. I would suggest they cannot afford to allow a further deterioration in what they are producing or circulation and advertising will go down even further. They will then seek further job cuts and the downward spiral will continue.”

Added Raeburn: “The Committee’s conclusion that the Scottish newspaper industry is an integral part of Scottish culture, which is highly valued both by its readers and the institutions that it scrutinises, is to be welcomed. It is also encouraging that the Committee recognises that, in order to maintain high quality, varied and independent journalism that reflects Scottish identity, it is vital that both the Scottish and UK governments ensure that the industry is not made unviable by the loss of public sector advertising.

“Advertising is the lifeblood of our industry and taking away public sector recruitment advertising and public notices to electronic portals is at complete odds with the stated wish of the Scottish Government for a strong, sustainable Scottish Press.

“There has to be a serious risk of more secretive, less open government and many grass roots issues being decided without consultation or debate if, as proposed, the obligation on local authorities and others to place public notices in newspapers is removed. It is difficult to understand how the Scottish Government can contemplate disenfranchising large numbers of the public by relying on less effective information channels.”