In My Opinion: Peter Murray: Time for a Scottish Media Commission

WHEN something is as badly broken as the current model of media ownership in the UK, the impulse to grab at anything which might be of help is almost too powerful to resist.

Failed investment strategies dating back to the boom years of the late 1990s and the first half of this decade – where newspaper titles amounted to just one more entry in an investment portfolio – have been battered by the credit crunch.

So if we are looking for something to blame, let us not forget collapsing investment revenue, more than the received wisdom of collapsing readership figures, in the account of the state of Scotland’s newspaper industry.

Therefore, it is right that, when delegates met from across the UK and Ireland for the conference of the National Union of Journalists (which concluded on Sunday), they agreed unanimously to a plan aimed at reviving the newspaper sector through local and regional media start-ups, tax breaks, annual tax credits for those who subscribe to individual media, eliminating postal rates for quality media, direct support to help establish genuinely local media organisations and strategically targeted use of central and local government advertising.

Many of these suggestions have already been discussed favourably as part of two inquiries this year by the Scottish Parliament and the House of Commons Scottish Affairs Committee into the crisis in our newspaper industry.

So, the NUJ Conference also voted at the weekend for the creation of a Scottish Media Commission, which we believe should be charged with the primary task of implementing a programme to rebuild and sustain the public service journalism which both MPs and MSPs have agreed underpins Scotland’s democratic, artistic and popular culture.

It is hardly surprising that newspaper proprietors and the owners of global-reach media companies – and government ministers – would prefer to dismiss regulation in the interests of the public as a way of saving an industry which every survey shows people want and need.

For our part, as journalists, we do not accept that those who read newspapers must accept the consequences of the recession any more than those who work to produce them.

However, if both government and opposition leaders wanted to make themselves popular with people who will actually vote for them in elections – as opposed to those who will fund them or seek favours from them, such as Rupert Murdoch – implementing a programme to save journalism in Scotland’s newspapers and on Scotland’s airwaves would not only be massively popular and easy, it would be startlingly cheap.

What it needs, however, is political will. The will to see that the trillions of pounds locked down in the burnt-out and bailed-out financial system are diverted from rewarding failure to creating jobs and rebuilding the economy – and in this case, rebuilding the media economy, for the needs of readers and viewers, not for the rich and powerful.

Peter Murray is a news producer at BBC Radio Scotland and has just been elected president of the National Union of Journalists.