The divide between newspapers having to return a profit and their civil duty and function has resulted, according to a speaker at the Festival of Politics, being held in Edinburgh, in a distortion of a famous saying by a former editor of The Guardian newspaper.
According to business writer and Scots Law expert, Francis Shennan, it is no longer CP Scott’s assertion that, while comment is free, facts are sacred. In Scotland, where the percentage profits in newspapers are higher than the average for businesses – and where there is pressure from shareholders for them to continue, even if it means cutbacks – facts are now “expensive”.
Speaking at ‘Scottish: Culture, Media, Politics’, hosted by Cathie Peattie MSP, who chairs the cross-party group on culture and the media at the Scottish Parliament, Shennan feared that, while there is never any shortage of news to fill the pages of newspapers, what may be missing is quality.
It is easier and cheaper for a journalist – especially freelancers paid poorly – to do an interview over the telephone with one person than engage in an investigation over a number of days.
Joining Shennan among the speakers was the Scottish Organiser of the National Union of Journalists, Paul Holleran. With newspapers coming under the control of fewer organisations, all of them deeply commercial, he said it may be time for a regulatory newspaper body in Scotland, similar to broadcasting’s Ofcom.
Cultural commentator, columnist and theatre reviewer, Joyce McMillan, described a “fundamental dissonance” between the commercial management of newspapers and their civic function.