Hyslop: Section 40 is 'threat' to press freedom

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Press freedom could be threatened by plans for a new regulatory system, the Scottish government has warned.

It also confirmed that it will not introduce the controversial press control measures north of the border.

The UK government is currently considering whether to implement measures contained within Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013.

They could lead to financial repercussions for newspapers which have not signed up to an official regulator.

Newspapers would have to pay the legal costs of both sides in libel and privacy actions brought against them.

Press regulation is devolved in Scotland and Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop said there were no plans to introduce the statutory measures.

But she warned that a move to enact Section 40 by the UK government could affect local and national newspapers in Scotland.

It is understood that the SNP's 54 MPs at Westminster will make a decision on whether or not to support the repeal of Section 40 once they see the UK government's proposals.

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Ms Hyslop's statement on the issue came as a 10 week UK government consultation on the issue closed.

She said: "A diverse and independent media is vital to sustaining a flourishing democracy.

"Any movement by the UK government to action Section 40 must carefully consider potential threats to the health of our democratic life and to the freedom of the press."

The planned reform of press regulations followed the Leveson Inquiry, which was set up on the back of the phone-hacking scandal.

The proposals have divided opinion between those who believe the measures are "fair" and those who fear they will severely limit the scope for newspapers to conduct investigative reporting to expose corruption and wrongdoing.

'Risk viability'

Most newspapers have signed up to the Independent Press Standards Organisation (Ipso), the press-funded body which has not sought official recognition, and would therefore be faced with paying plaintiffs' costs under the Section 40 provisions.

Ms Hyslop said: "We are committed to ensuring the practices which led to the Leveson Inquiry in the first place do not happen again and we believe that all individuals should have the ability to seek redress when they feel they have been the victim of press malpractice.

"However, the context of press regulation in Scotland is quite distinct from that in England and Wales and section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act does not apply under Scots Law.

"We have not introduced statutory measures to incentivise participation in the regulatory system, as has happened in Westminster, and I can confirm we have no plans to do so.

"Despite press regulation being devolved, Scottish local and national media could be impacted by any decision to enact section 40 in England and Wales, and it is my view that the measures consulted on by the UK government would put at risk the viability of much of our independent media, particularly local newspapers, and pose a potential threat to freedom of the press."

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