In My Opinion: Julian Calvert: Yes, there should be a Scottish Media Commission

IT’S hard to argue with the newly-elected president of the National Union of Journalists, Peter Murray, when he wrote, on allmediascotland, that political will is needed if the woes of Scotland’s media are to be cured.

But it would take an awful lot of will to find a way for one commission to fix all the problems facing Scotland’s commercial television, radio (national and local), newspapers (national, regional and local) – and, oh, and the small matter of the BBC.

It isn’t that long since we had a broadcasting commission, after all, and although it must be tempting, how many politicians would really think it a good idea to sit in judgement on national papers a few weeks before a General Election?

The problems, however, are very real and very pressing, especially for the local and regional press which is facing financial threats on all sides – classified ads such as recruitment are migrating to the web, the legal obligation to advertise public notices may be dropped, circulation is falling overall…

Peter seems primarily concerned with the press, and that was the main thrust of the NUJ’s UK-wide Local Media Commission which sat earlier this year, so any commission should perhaps look not only at the ‘broken’ model of the UK’s media ownership, but the far from pristine business model which seems to have remained unchanged at so many newspapers for so long.

Have newspapers become trapped in the ABCs circulation game, where every year they have to use the same gimmicks and promotions to inflate their sales (and yes, I confess to being a serial abuser of vote-by-coupon bonnie baby competitions in the past)?

Perhaps local newspapers should be more reliant on subscriptions rather than casual sales, as has always happened in North America – and what effect would that have on news agendas?

More questions than answers perhaps, but there are also potential solutions, such as the proposals for the Welsh Assembly to fund newspaper start-ups, the New Voices project in the USA which funds micro-local news websites, or even (French President) Sarkozy-style subsidised newspaper subscriptions for young people.

There are also real success stories – papers where sales are stable and communities not only get a good read every day or week, they know that if schools or hospitals face closure there will be someone fighting on their behalf.

In February, Enterprise Minister, Jim Mather, called a summit on the future of Scottish Newspapers, which was held at Glasgow Caledonian University. For possibly the first time, proprietors, editors, unions, academics and newspaper wholesalers were in the same room.

A huge variety of problems and ideas were discussed… but in the following days, weeks and months it all went rather quiet. Is it time now to take some action at last?

Julian Calvert is a senior lecturer in journalism at Glasgow Caledonian University; previously, he spent 13 years as a newspaper editor.