Let 18-year-olds read all about it… for free

SCOTTISH youngsters should be given a free year-long subscription to their favourite newspaper on their 18th birthday, to help stave off a crisis in the industry, Labour's culture spokeswoman has said.

• Labour's culture spokeswoman Pauline McNeill is keen to help Scotland's struggling newspaper industry. Picture: Greg Macvean

Pauline McNeill said "imaginative and radical" action was required to help protect journalism in Scotland amid falling circulation figures and advertising revenues.

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Writing in today's Scotsman, Ms McNeill calls on the Scottish Government to copy a scheme introduced in France, where 18-year-olds are offered a free daily copy of a newspaper of their choice.

Last year, president Nicolas Sarkozy announced the French government would pay for the delivery of millions of newspapers to teenagers, claiming that the habit of reading news took hold at a very young age.

The scheme came amid a raft of announcements designed to help the ailing French press industry, and should now be copied in Scotland, according to Labour.

"On their 18th birthday, teenagers should receive a free year-long subscription to their favourite newspaper," Ms McNeill writes. "We need to act because the newspaper industry is facing the biggest crisis in its history."

She adds: "In Scotland, we have one of the most competitive markets on the planet. Seventeen daily newspapers are printed for a population of five million. But the circulation of virtually all newspapers is falling and profits are down."

Labour say the cost of such a scheme should, in principal, be borne by the Scottish Government, and if it were forced to pay for copies, the measures could cost more than 9.3million excluding the cost of delivery, based on a subscription cost of 50p per paper. If delivery costs were included, the costs would rise considerably.

But The Scotsman understands that Labour would prefer to push for an arrangement similar to the French model, whereby publishers provide newspapers for free in return for the benefits that an increased circulation might bring to advertising sales.

The National Union of Journalists welcomed the proposals. President Pete Murray said: "This is positive initiative that shows real imagination. If we get this right it will be a win-win for young people and newspapers."

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A Scottish Government spokesman said it recognised that Scotland's newspaper industry was facing a number of "challenges".

He added: "Enterprise minister Jim Mather has had a series of meetings with various stakeholders from the industry to discuss some of these specific challenges.

"There are clearly a number of ideas which could help breathe fresh life into the newspaper sector to help secure a viable future, and we look forward to seeing these develop. However, it is vital any such initiatives have the backing of the whole industry."

But Liberal Democrat culture spokesman Iain Smith warned: "In the current economic climate this would not be the best use of government money.

"In the middle of a recession there are better things for government to be spending money on than free newspapers for young people."

• Pauline McNeill: Radical thinking is needed to protect quality journalism