Press regulation: Scottish Parties to decide on Royal Charter

Leaders of Scotland's main political parties will decide on Thursday whether to back press regulation plans.

The Scottish government has suggested a number of amendments to the UK government's proposed royal charter to make it compliant with Scots law.

These include an addition on "appropriate respect" for people who have recently died.

It follows complaints about press treatment from the family of murdered Glasgow teenager Diane Watson.

MSPs have responsibility for the newspaper industry and are considering backing a royal charter which has been proposed by Prime Minister David Cameron, the deputy PM Nick Clegg and the Labour Leader Ed Miliband following the report of Lord Leveson into press standards.

The Scottish government set up its own inquiry into the issue but has not adopted the recommendations of Lord McCluskey's group which supported regulation of news providers on the internet, as well as the printed press.

Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop told MSPs on Holyrood's education and culture committee: "We do think that Scottish participation in a charter would be a viable way to implement Leveson in Scotland".

Ms Hyslop said the royal charter is expected to be discussed by the privy council next month and that meant "we would need to move reasonably quickly to secure its amendment to reflect Scots law".

'Ministerial intervention'

It is that timetable which has prompted Thursday's meeting of Scotland's party leaders to decide whether they will support the charter.

Earlier MSPs heard evidence from newspaper editors , including Magnus Llewellin of the Herald.

Mr Llewellin criticised the idea of a royal charter applying to the Scottish press saying "it poses a threat at some stage in the future of direct ministerial intervention because all they need is a two thirds majority to over turn it in the House of Commons.

"When we are all dead and buried who is to say that you don't get some government we don't like down south which decides to do something very differently".

Mr Llewellin said he preferred reform of the voluntary Press Complaints Commission code and described the idea of a royal charter as "perverse" in the Scottish context.

He added: "We are being frog-marched into a system which could put many of us out of business and I think that would be a bad thing for the democratic process if nothing else thanks to alleged crimes in the south east of England. That just strikes me as bizarre.

"The Scottish Parliament was set up to deal with Scottish specific problems and what we are now discussing is setting up legislation to deal with a problem that arose in the south east of England. It strikes me as perverse."

Victims' rights

Ms Hyslop told the committee her government would also like to see the royal charter amended to reflect concerns raised by Glasgow couple Margaret and Jim Watson.

They have campaigned for years to get the law changed to give victims' families the opportunity to defend in the courts the reputations of their dead relatives.

Currently only living people can be defamed.

The Watson's daughter, Diane, was murdered at Whitehill Secondary in Dennistoun in 1991. After her killer was convicted a column appeared in the Glasgow Herald newspaper suggesting Diane had looked down on her murderer with disdain.

Diane's 15-year-old brother, Alan, was later found dead clutching newspaper articles in his hand.

Ms Watson told MSPs she was looking for a change to the law to ensure victims' rights are recognised in any new regulation of the press.

She said "I am looking for my daughter's name to be reinstated. Why should I have to put up with this. Not for me but for my daughter. She was the innocent party in this."

Mrs Watson accepted there was little chance of a law of defaming the dead being introduced but called for an independent tribunal to hear victims' concerns.

She said: "We are certainly not looking for money. I don't want blood money. I can't have my daughter back but I certainly don't want anyone to demean her memory."

Herald editor, Mr Llewellin, said his paper had apologised to the Watson family for what he described as "lazy journalism" but cautioned against using this example as a reason for introducing a law protecting the reputations of the dead.

Fiona Hyslop told the committee she had asked for the Royal Charter to make "reference to ensuring appropriate respect in dealing with those who are recently deceased, where the only public interest in them is because of the circumstances of their death".

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites