Scotland

McCluskey Report recommends legal press regulation in Scotland

  • 15 March 2013
  • From the section Scotland
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Lord McCluskey recommended statutory controls of the press underpinned by law

An expert report on the regulation of the press in Scotland has recommended statutory controls underpinned by law.

Lord McCluskey was invited to chair a committee by First Minister Alex Salmond after the Leveson Report.

At Westminster, talks have broken down and the prime minister intends to hold a vote in the Commons on Monday.

The McCluskey report concluded a voluntary code was unlikely to work, but opposition parties at Holyrood described the proposals as "draconian".

The former high court judge and solicitor general chaired an expert group set up to recommend press regulation reforms in Scotland.

His report recommended the creation of "an independent, non-statutory, regulatory body of a character to be proposed by the press", alongside an independent body "with responsibility for ensuring that the independent regulatory body complies at all times with the Leveson principles".

The expert group said that if Westminster fails to create a UK-wide press regulator, Holyrood should create one after consulting with the media.

In a letter to the first minister accompanying the report, Lord McCluskey said: "The jurisdiction of the regulatory body proposed by Leveson must extend to all publishers of news-related material and not be a voluntary system."

'Admirably clear'

Press regulation is devolved to the Scottish parliament, and Mr Salmond has previously said he supported an ombudsman-style regulatory system, similar to the Republic of Ireland.

Following publication of the report, the first minister said the Scottish government would "take the time to consider all of their suggestions in full and discuss the proposals with the other political parties and other stakeholders".

He added: "The report is admirably clear. It is for the parliaments in London and in Scotland to establish a recognition process.

"It is for the press to bring forward a voluntary regulatory body compliant with Leveson principles. I hope that this is still possible.

"The Scottish government indicated at the time of Leveson's report that we wanted to implement his key proposals of a voluntary self-regulatory system set up by the press with statutory underpinning."

In a statement the Scottish Newspaper Society said it was "in favour of UK-wide non-statutory regulation and is opposed to a Scotland-only solution which we believe would be a cost burden on many small publishers who are already facing economic hardship".

'Bad faith'

The regulator could have the power to censure newspapers, magazines and websites, including "gossip" sites, while the expert group said further regulation of social media may also be required.

The report's findings were criticised by the other major parties at Holyrood.

Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont said: "We agreed with the first minister that this group should look solely at the technicalities of implementing Leveson in Scots law. We did not agree to the Leveson recommendations being re-written or built upon.

"While Lord McCluskey and his fellow panel members are not to be criticised, rather than pursue the original agreed objective they were asked to rework Leveson on a ridiculously short timescale.

"That in itself appears to be bad faith on the first minister's part. We hope he will take forward the recommendation that Scotland would be best served by having a UK-wide solution."

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said some of the measures outlined in the report had not been anticipated.

He said: "The proposal to compel newspapers to join a regulated body was unexpected. The potential consequences of that need to be properly looked at.

"Overall I have always hoped for a UK-wide system to protect victims of abuses. That would accept the reality of how most modern newspapers expect to cover the whole of the UK.

"I hope that all Scottish MPs will attend the vote on Monday to support statutory underpinning for the self-regulation elsewhere in the UK. That will increase the effectiveness of any system in Scotland. It will keep the options on the table for Scotland."

'Draconian' controls

Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson accused the first minister of trying to "shackle a free press at a time of the utmost political sensitivity".

She said the group's remit "was so narrow it was inevitable a proposal for a new press law would be the outcome.

"It is unacceptable that both the operation and funding of the new regulator would be overseen by a 'recognition commissioner' appointed by Scottish government ministers.

"This is not statutory underpinning but statutory control, which would give Scotland some of the most draconian press controls in the western world."

The co-convener of the Scottish Greens, Patrick Harvie, said his party supported the implementation of the Leveson proposals.

But he added: "The McCluskey report appears to go much further than anyone had expected.

"To include every source of news coverage would result in a torrent of complaints about every website, every blog, even every single tweet. I cannot see how this is remotely practical, even if it was desirable.

"If the will exists in Scotland to see the Leveson proposals implemented, it should not be beyond our ability to ensure that professional, commercial media organisations are properly regulated, but individual citizens are not caught up in the same system."

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