Urquhart backs local papers

Independent Highlands and Islands MSP Jean Urquhart has called for greater diversity and accountability of the national media, and stressed the importance of well-supported local newspapers.

Ms Urquhart led a Scottish Parliament debate on the role of the media in society and democracy this week.

She made the case for a long-term and wide-ranging debate – not confined to the Holyrood chamber – on journalism, media ownership and new media in relation to politics and power.

In her opening statement, Ms Urquhart said that the relationship between people and politics was changing, and that public interest in the media was at an all-time high:“There is a changing relationship between the people of Scotland and power. The democratic revival we are experiencing is marked by the surge in interest in politics.

“That means where we get our news – and indeed in whose interests the media is run – is of renewed importance, and must be under intensified scrutiny.”

The Shetland-based MSP pointed out that this week was  Local Newspaper Week, and spoke of the need to support local journalism and reflected on the impact of social media:“We have to discuss ways in which we can support journalism in Scotland.

“Local newspapers provide an often invaluable service, and the new wave of citizen led coverage and comment is an important development that must be registered.”

Ms Urquhart also raised criticisms of parts of the mass media, who she believed must be under more intense scrutiny from politicians and citizens, and called for more devolution of broadcasting powers: “We need to apply scrutiny to the way particular media institutions have covered recent social and political affairs.

“For example, we might question and expose the myth mongering pushed by broad sections of the press on the question of immigration.

“We might also note the widespread problem the BBC now has in Scotland, where in recent years staff cuts and reduced resources have had a negative impact on the service that we need, and want.

“Would change to the BBC Charter make it possible for responsibility to rest with Holyrood instead of Westminster?

“We know the hold that a tiny minority of media owners can have over the outcome and framing of political events in the public mind.

“For so long, this has been impenetrable. But as democrats who have a view on the need for balanced and critical debate, perhaps now more than ever we have a chance to challenge the vested interests and corporate power that lies behind sections of the mass media.”

Following the debate, Ms Urquhart made an appeal on social media for donations to the crowdfunding appeal for the independent news site Bella Caledonia, saying supporting such projects was “one thing we can do right now” to promote a diverse Scottish media.


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