Edinburgh Western MSP, Alex Cole-Hamilton praised the paper and supported a Conservative motion calling for the financial support to continue into the next financial year.
“I want to pay tribute to the invaluable contributions of the local press to our nation, not just during the Covid-19 emergency but for generations before that,” he said. “During the last year local news outlets have proved critical, providing a much needed link among our communities at a time when tens of thousands of us have never felt so isolated.
“To take one example of the critical work being done by local newspapers, the Edinburgh Evening News has a coronavirus tab obvious as soon as you open its website, and on clicking the link you have access to countless articles and vital information on infection rates in the Lothians, how to access vaccines locally, the different types of vaccines you may be offered and what to expect.”
The Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP added: “Throughout this pandemic local news sources have been some of the most valuable and trusted sources of information across our communities. In a world of fake news and misinformation, local press stands true.”
MSPs from all opposition parties backed Graham Simpson’s motion, which called for rates relief to continue into the 2021/22 financial year. A Scottish Government amendment which tried to make the issue part of the ongoing budget process failed by 63 votes to 62.
During the debate Mr Simpson said a vibrant newspaper sector was “essential for local democracy” and added: “For democracy to thrive it needs checks and balances. That debate is very much live here in Scotland right now.
“A vibrant press is one of those checks and we must all be prepared to be subject to the full glare of publicity, good and bad.”
He added: “The commitment to continue to invest in Scottish news publishers has not been renewed,” he said. “By contrast, the UK Government’s initial £35 million has been extended twice – by £15 million and £22 million – to a total of £77 million.”
Trade Minister Ivan McKee responded for the Scottish Government, saying newspapers had been supported in other ways including through advertising. He agreed an independent media is “central to a strong democracy” and local newspapers were particularly important in holding power to account.
He said rates relief was a “blunt tool” which could provide the biggest benefit to those who need it least and pointed to an investment of £3m through government advertising spend on public health information and added: “It is this advertising support that we have seen as the most effective way to direct resources into the sector. It enables more effective targeting where support is needed most, in particular towards those local newspapers which are the main focus of this debate.”
An amendment from Scottish Labour’s Claire Baker calling on the Government to “ensure that its advertising budget spend is invested in a way that supports innovative journalism and regional and local news” was also passed at Holyrood.