Scotland comes up with distinctive solution
Many will question the need for Scotland to have its own press regulator, especially as the majority of newspapers, with honourable exceptions, are controlled from outside Scotland.
Also, in an internet age, is there any point in regulating newspapers and will this not just lead to censorship and more power to politicians?
Calls for press freedom are seductive, but we have to ask: freedom to do what and in whose interests? Is it possible to maintain press freedom within regulation underpinned by statute? Can we have a press unafraid to take on politicians but not ready to trash the McCanns or devastate the family of Milly Dowler? Is there a potential Scottish solution?
To my surprise, the answer is yes. The expert panel report raises a number of questions that will need answering but these are of detail and implementation rather than principle.
If we begin with the simple proposition that no-one is above the law and apply that, then we can see a way forward. We need a new system because the old one failed, completely. I cannot accept that, in a democracy, press regulation would make us like China or North Korea. Even if this new press regulator were to try to censor, we have examples from the past which demonstrate that the truth will out.
The cross-border issue is addressed by the simple maxim that newspapers distributed in Scotland must be Leveson-compliant within the Scottish system of regulation. Press regulation is not a power reserved to Westminster and the Scottish Parliament can legislate and in so doing require even London-print newspapers available in Scotland to comply with the Scottish law. Both newspapers and broadcasters have, at various times and by order of courts, had to amend their coverage in the light of the needs of separate laws and jurisdictions.
Where there is a problem with McCluskey’s report is in the same area ducked by Leveson. How should the internet be regulated? This is a question that will become ever more pressing, but for now we should welcome the possibility of a distinctively Scottish solution to a problem that was not of Scotland’s making.
• Robert Beveridge is visiting professor at the University of Sassari, Italy, and a tutor at the Scottish Media Academy.
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