Catherine Happer, Director, Glasgow University Media Group, Philip Schlesinger, Professor in Cultural Theory and Deputy Director of CREATe, University of Glasgow, Ana Ines Langer, Senior Lecturer, Politics, University of Glasgow, Hayes Mabweazara, Senior Lecturer, Sociology, University of Glasgow, Dominic Hinde, Lecturer, Sociology, University of Glasgow

The purpose of this report is to summarise and reflect on stakeholder views drawn from civic society, the media industries, government and regulatory bodies on sustaining quality media infrastructure in Scotland. These conversations have taken place in the shadow of continued challenges to the financial viability of public interest journalism, public service broadcasting and cultural media in both the public and commercial sectors. The changing needs of Scotland as a political unit within the UK and European media landscapes, and a perceived lack of quality across the Scottish media’s output more generally are also key issues. In order to allow for the free and frank exchange of views from various stakeholders, this report was compiled from expert sessions using the Chatham House Rule.

Four expert sessions were held on 9 June 2022 at the University of Glasgow, consisting of roundtables under the guidance of the report’s authors. These sessions led the research team to make the following executive recommendations with a view to further collaboration and problem-solving.

Support for Scotland’s media

Scotland’s media sector faces significant structural issues which are impacting on the industries globally. National data on the scale of investment in media, ongoing job losses, and their overall impact on quality journalism are urgently needed.

Scotland’s media are still firmly rooted in older conceptions of print and broadcasting. The increasingly disparate nature of the media sector means that a one size fits all response cannot be appropriate and new forms of support must not perpetuate old working models.

There are diverse approaches elsewhere to non-commercial funding to promote independent journalism. There are lessons to be learned from comparable small territories such as Quebec and Denmark which have invested significantly in their media sectors, with some evidence of sustainability. Research should be taken forward on how to use these models in Scotland and the Scottish Government and Parliament should explore how these might be applied.

Digital regulation and competition

Scottish media operate in a platformised culture in which the content they produce is subject to various forms of national regulation, content moderation and influence. The UK has begun to decouple from the EU regulatory framework and Scotland should seek allies elsewhere in the UK and push for a regulatory settlement that works in its interest at this critical time.

The authority and status of domestically-produced public service broadcasting and its sustainability is in question. A funding model based on the TV license makes little sense to younger generations for whom indirect access to news is highly common and the purchase of communication services is routine in all households. The BBC’s branding of its content is increasingly challenged by the diversity of the digital space. Public service broadcasting in Scotland will need a new consensus on funding and structure to maintain service levels. This ought to reflect Scotland’s specific needs.

The BBC has to compete with other national news outlets for its credibility with Scottish audiences. It has been subject to sustained cut-backs and re-purposing by successive governments, increasingly challenging its relative autonomy from the state and undermining its capacity to compete with commercial rivals. It is in the interests of the Scottish public that public service media of all kinds are able to carry out quality journalism independent of political interference from either Downing Street or Bute House.

Holding power to account

Large parts of the media in the UK – and in Scotland – have not been effective in their scrutiny of political decision-making in recent years, whether at the level of the state or the devolved institutions, and a culture of political impunity has gone largely unchecked. Political journalism has often focused on process and moments of brinksmanship over policies and often failed to articulate the wider public interest. New research would provide a clearer picture of what is needed to strengthen journalistic standards and investigate legal and financial measures to assist journalists.

Emerging independent outlets have had some success in developing models for community-embedded journalism and using social media as a new democratic space to promote a diversity of Scottish voices. However, these remain relatively marginal, and their funding is rarely secure. More research is needed on how this important and growing component of the media landscape can be supported.

Building trust in journalism is a multi-faceted challenge but without addressing it, Scotland’s media will not be ready to engage effectively with the possible prospect of radical constitutional change or to address fundamental questions such as the climate emergency, pandemics, and economic crises. There is a powerful case for new research and education through universities along with civic partners to play a key role in tackling these issues.

Alongside building trust, there is also a need to build recognition for the work of journalists as a part of the democratic process and to ensure their safety and freedom from harassment and intimidation.