Page last updated at 17:04 GMT, Friday, 18 December 2009

Stop the press: Campaign to prevent online advertising

By Jamie McIvor
BBC Scotland Local Government Correspondent

Front page of The Scotsman newspaper Jan 2006
Newspapers want to stop councils advertising public notices online

Scottish newspapers look set to mount a fierce campaign to block plans allowing councils to stop advertising in the press.

The Scottish government is consulting on changing the law to allow public notices to be advertised online.

The move could save councils £6m a year but publishers say the loss of the money could be devastating.

Newspapers have already been hit hard by the recession and decisions by some advertisers to concentrate online.

But the government believes that online advertising could provide the public with a better service and help councils whose budgets are under pressure.

Finance Secretary John Swinney said: "Public bodies must provide the best value for money.

"Councils have collectively identified a need to cut spending on public notices which they are legally required to advertise and pay for, costing around £6m a year.

While it will be up to councils to decide the best mix of advertising to use in their area, I would expect to see immediate savings
John Swinney
Finance Secretary

"The changes we are consulting on will mean councils can use a new public information notice portal instead of advertising in local papers.

"The new portal will provide more cost effective public information and a means to improve communication and dialogue with the public.

"While it will be up to councils to decide the best mix of advertising to use in their area, I would expect to see immediate savings. With the way that people use media constantly changing, this is the most effective way to give out public information in the 21st Century."

But the company that owns The Scotsman and the Edinburgh Evening News is fiercely opposed to the proposal.

The managing director of Scotsman Publications, Michael Johnston, is quoted in this morning's paper as saying: "It is unnecessary and not in the public interest, given the lack of public trust in state-funded information sites.

"Scotland's poor broadband penetration and, equally importantly, the poor take-up of broadband by the most vulnerable and excluded sections of Scottish society."

The Scotsman's editor John McLellan added: "SNP politicians wring their hands about the future of the Scottish press and then they do their best to damage Scotland's entire local newspaper industry.

"And they call themselves democrats who believe in accountability. It would be laughable if it wasn't so serious."

Meanwhile Jim Raeburn, the director of Scottish Daily Newspaper Society, said the proposal could undermine democracy.

He warned: "There would be the danger of less open, more secretive government and of many grassroots issues being decided without consultation."

Falling sales

Councils across Scotland have already removed most of their job adverts from the press and put them on the internet instead.

Meanwhile, many papers have been hit by a combination of the recession and falling sales.

The Herald currently sells about 56,000 copies a day while The Scotsman only sells 46,000. Barely a decade ago, they each sold about double that number.

A combination of the state of the economy and the growth of the internet has hit classified advertising - such as property, cars and jobs - badly.

Losing more council adverts could be critical.

There is also concern over what the removal of some advertising could mean for local papers across Scotland.

However, some councils are likely to welcome the move with budgets under severe pressure and many controversial spending decisions under consideration.

One source in local government said the plan was really about giving councils more flexibility.

He said: "In some areas, local newspapers were widely read so councils were likely to believe that they were an effective way of reaching the public - but in some other places this was not the case and the internet might be more effective."

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