MPs warn of Scottish press decline

By Alice Cannet

The Scottish press faces more pressure due to the industry restructuring, competition from public sector advertising and the levels of stress in the workplace, it has emerged.

A committee of MPs met with industry experts and management to find out more about the sources of the current decline in circulation and sales figures of Scotland’s top newspapers.

Today’s report said that the industry was forced to dramatically restructure itself due to economic pressure, reduced advertising revenues and the sudden increase of alternative sources of news.

Scotland is a very competitive market for news, with 17 dailies printed for an audience of five million people. But circulation figures are down by around 5.2 per cent compared to last year.

At the bottom of the list is the Sunday Herald which circulation has declined by 17.70 per cent, followed by the Scotland on Sunday down 11.81 per cent and The Herald down 10.70 per cent.

Despite coming on top of the pile, the Sunday Mail has also seen its readership fall with a circulation figure down 7.56 per cent.

With circulation numbers so low, it does not help that the costs of key raw materials of newsprint have increased by 20 per cent in the past year, MPs noted.

MPs heard from the industry leaders who suggested three main reasons for the decline in number of papers bought and the fall of profits.

They cited the recession as one reason for the decline. The fall in advertising was also attributed. They blamed it on the trend by local authorities to advertise public sector jobs on specialist websites.

It was vital, the committee insisted, that the Scottish Executive and UK government ensured the viability of the Scottish press and prevent overbearing competition from public sector advertising.

“The industry needs to adapt itself to create sustainable business models, through consolidation and mergers subject to the appropriate safeguards, whilst maintaining high quality, varied and independent journalism that reflects the Scottish identity,” the report said.

Another reason involved the costs involved in the structural changes to the industry which were made to adjust to the explosion of alternative sources of information such as the internet.

Interestingly, the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) had become aware of the growing stress of newspaper staff and the rise of mental health problems and ordered that an audit be completed.

A health and safety survey was carried out in each Scottish newspaper which prompted the MPs to be concerned at the levels of stress in the industry.

They urged the NUJ to share the results with the newspapers’ management as soon as possible so that they can start to tackle the problems highlighted in the audit through an action plan.

Mr Johnston of the Johnston Press group admitted that staff had been stressed and anguished during the reorganization of the company structure.

The Chairman of the Committee, Mohammad Sarwar, said: “Scottish print media has a long and distinguished history of which Scottish people are rightly proud.

“High quality reporting which reflects Scottish culture and the interests and concerns of local communities is vital.

“But the evidence my Committee heard during this inquiry has raised significant questions and we urge the Scottish and UK governments to do everything in their power to safeguard the future of the industry.”

Finally, the MPs estimated that newspapers could lose £10m because of the move from print to public sector portals of public notices.