A committee of MPs has called for the expansion of the BBC-funded local democracy reporter service (LDRS) as part of a plan to safeguard the future of local journalism.
A report published this month by the House of Commons’ Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee into the sustainability of local journalism makes five recommendations, the first of which is the strengthening of the LDRS system.
Currently 20 local democracy reporters are employed in Scotland, funded through the licence fee to cover local authorities and health boards, which the committee recognised were having “a positive impact on local journalism by enabling important local news stories to get coverage where otherwise they might not.”
There have been calls to expand the service, particularly to cover courts which are not serviced by agencies, and the report argues that “more could be done to expand the service across different media platforms and to give access to a wider range of news providers.”
John Nicolson MP
The current system is guaranteed funding until the end of the current BBC Charter in 2027, and the MPs, including John Nicolson, the SNP MP for Ochil and South Perthshire and former television journalist, recommend the LDRS should be protected under the forthcoming Charter renewal negotiations, and for the BBC to examine how the service can be widened.
SNS director John McLellan said: “Local democracy reporters are key to ensuring proper awareness and scrutiny of decisions made by local authorities across Scotland and it is essential the system is protected. Having proved its value to both the public and to news publishers, the time is right to look at ways the system can be expanded.
“But with continuing financial pressure on all news organisations, this needs to be done sooner rather than later.”
The committee also recognised the importance of statutory public notices for local publications and recommended the expansion of their availability, and also urged the UK Government to create a long-term public interest news fund to support innovation.
John McLellan added: “As non-broadcast news publishing is devolved, we would encourage the Scottish Government to look at establishing its own public interest news fund, which could form part of the remit for the proposed Scottish Public Interest Journalism Institute which the Scottish Government supports.”