Page last updated at 10:42 GMT, Thursday, 28 January 2010

Concern over plans to move council adverts to internet

By Jamie McIvor
Local Government Correspondent

newspapers
Publishers fear losing revenue if council adverts move to the internet

Controversial proposals to allow councils to cut the number of adverts they place in newspapers have come under scrutiny at Holyrood.

Labour, which staged a debate on the issue, has resisted the proposals, along with newspaper publishers and the National Union of Journalists.

The Scottish government is currently holding a consultation over the plans to let councils move statutory notices, such as road closures and applications for planning permission, to the internet.

Publishers and opposition parties said the move could threaten the viability of some local newspapers and make it harder for the public to get hold of vital information.

The Scottish government's plan is deeply undemocratic because many people don't have access to the internet
Pauline McNeill
Labour culture spokeswoman

But supporters argued the move would give cash-strapped councils more flexibility and could save £6m a year.

Labour culture spokeswoman Pauline McNeill said: "I am hoping MSPs from all parties will support our motion and parliament will send a clear message to Finance Secretary John Swinney that he must drop his damaging proposals to allow councils to put public notices online instead of in newspapers.

"The Scottish government's plan is deeply undemocratic because many people don't have access to the internet and there's also a world of difference between reading a notice in a newspaper and having to hunt for an announcement or advert on the web."

The government stressed the proposal would allow councils to decide for themselves whether or not information should be advertised in the press or displayed online.

'Bad for democracy'

A national website would carry notices from across Scotland but would be designed in such a way as to make it easy to find the information relevant to a particular area.

But councils could still advertise in newspapers too if they felt this was an effective option.

Publishers have argued it would be bad for democracy if notices only appeared online - but any loss of advertising revenue could be bad news for them.

The main concern in the industry has been over how the proposals could affect local newspapers - although some larger newspapers including The Herald, The Scotsman and The Press and Journal could also lose out if councils cut the amount they spent on newspaper advertising.

Opponents also argued many people still did not have internet access at home, while virtually everyone could read a local newspaper.

Across Scotland, six out of 10 people have a broadband internet connection at home, according to communications regulator Ofcom, but the numbers vary widely from area to area.

For instance, in Glasgow, just 39% of people use broadband at home, but, in Aberdeen, the figure is 73%.

The government consultation will run until the middle of February.



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SEE ALSO
Concern over online advertising
09 Nov 09 |  Scotland
MPs warn of risk to local papers
13 Jul 09 |  Scotland

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