Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Rhoda Grant was pleased when MSPs this week backed another move to give the media 100% business rates relief.

However, Mrs Grant was dismayed to discover that might mean the £3million advertising support previously announced by the Scottish Government could be taken off the table.

Mrs Grant has now written to the Finance Secretary, Kate Forbes, asking if she will clarify the position on advertising support to local, online and national news outlets.

This week (May 20) an amendment was passed by MSPs for current Non-Domestic Rates (Coronavirus Reliefs) (Scotland) Regulations 2020 to be extended to the media sector which would give the industry a much needed financial break.

The SNP voted against the amendment, but it was passed because Labour joined other parties to vote it through. Mrs Grant said: “I am delighted that the newspaper sector will now be able to benefit from Non-Domestic Rates Relief. However, the newspaper industry is not out of the woods yet and also needs the advertising support.

“To give with one hand and take away with another would be incredible and smacks of the Scottish Government throwing its toys out of the pram because they didn’t get their way.

“I’m hopeful the media can get both avenues of support because they certainly need it at the moment.”

Mrs Grant continued: “Not only do Public Health Notices need to be given to local news outlets as well as national ones but continued advertising support will help protect the free press and it will help protect jobs which will ultimately aid the recovery of the economy when restrictions are eased.”

Secretary for Government Business and Constitutional Relations, Mike Russell, who was leading for the Government, argued during the debate: “There is a difficulty in continuing to add to the £3.5 million another £3.5 million, £4 million or £5 million. That is the simple, practical difficulty.”

According to figures cited in Parliament during the debate, this extension of rates relief will benefit the news sector by around £4 million.

This now means that premises used for the production of newspapers, and related news platforms, will now be eligible for 100% rates relief in 2020-21. 

Mrs Grant contacted the Scottish Government in April after many local media outlets contacted her calling for more support to be given to the sector as their advertising income has plummeted due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Scottish Government announced on the 14th May that they will invest £3million into marketing activity in addition to the £440,000 already invested in advertising and public health messages.

The editor of EVENTS newspaper in Stornoway, Fred Silver pointed out that the remaining small newspaper companies and news websites in Scotland almost certainly enjoyed 100% small business rates relief already because of the scale of their property. Inevitably, Government advertising would go to larger corporations.  In addition, there was a risk to freedom of the press if newspapers and news websites became dependent on the spending whims of Government departments.