Scottish newspapers criticised for ‘underwhelming’ campaign to save themselves

NEWSPAPERS and newspaper leaders have been accused of conducting an “underwhelming” campaign against Scottish Government proposals to allow local authorities the discretion of removing public notices from newspapers and placing them instead on the internet – thus potentially saving local authorities millions of pounds but also risking the financial viability of some titles.

Earlier today, during a two hours-plus debate in the Scottish Parliament on the Scottish newspaper industry, Conservative MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife, Ted Brocklebank – in declaring his party’s opposition to the proposal – said: “Can I say, as one who has been involved in communications of one way or another over my whole working life, that I have been underwhelmed by the [newspaper] industry’s communications on its own behalf in these difficult times.

“I’ve had meetings with all sectors of the newspaper industry in Scotland and, through parliamentary and written questions, I’ve tried to highlight the very real problems newspapers are facing. Members across the Chamber have raised similar fears, but, until recently, politicians raising questions about the looming press crisis scarcely made a line in the columns of the very newspapers they were seeking to save. It was almost as if, by not mentioning the problems, somehow they would go away.”

During what is essential viewing for anyone with an interest in the newspaper industry – and which included namechecks of an estimated 40-plus different newspapers – Brocklebank was speaking in support of a motion from Labour MSP Pauline McNeill’s opposing the proposal, which would require the approval of MSPs before it could happen.

Brocklebank, a former head of news and current affairs at Grampian TV, continued: “I sympathise with the views expressed by the NUJ over the period that newspaper groups, in getting to grips with their many challenges, have reacted with all the resolution of rabbits caught in headlights.”

He was speaking some 26 minutes into the debate.

And he added: “How could the readers and political representatives help them [newspapers] if they’ were not prepared to help themselves? To be fair, this has changed in recent weeks, and I particularly congratulate the Dundee Courier on its campaign to raise public awareness of the democratic deficit if local and regional newspapers are denied public sector advertising. I should add that, in my part of the world, the Fife Herald titles – which are part of Johnston Press – have also lodged campaigns to raise public awareness on these issues.”

MSPs will vote on the motion later today.