McCluskey proposals: sensible or truly scary?

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BROADCASTER Ruth Wishart launched a spirited defence of the McCluskey report into how the Leveson proposals on press regulation might be taken forward in Scotland.

Saying she was “positively gobsmacked” to read what had been written about the report, she insisted it did not propose censorship, end 300 years of press freedom or allow political intrusion.

Wishart, a member of the McCluskey group, claimed the report said press regulation should not be laid down by the state – and was clear about the need for a free press. “The regulation proposed was to be devised by the industry itself,” she said. “The only statutory underpinning in Leveson, reflected by McCluskey, was a new body to ensure, every two to three years, that self-regulation was doing its job.”

Wishart said the system “was broke and we needed to fix it”; the Press Complaints Commission was not fit for purpose and some editors “had drunk in more last-chance saloons than was good for their livers”, letting the press and the public down by fostering a culture of cut-throat competitiveness.

She said the police had failed to act on criminality by journalists and a new approach was needed. Wishart said she “needed no lessons in the need for a free and unfettered press” and criticised the “dog’s breakfast” Westminster proposals involving a Royal Charter. She said newspapers who went about their business in a “decent, legal and honest way had nothing to fear from the McCluskey proposals”.

Magnus Linklater, former editor of The Times in Scotland and The Scotsman, said that phrase sent a shiver down his spine – because it showed that there ultimately was something to fear.

Wishart said there was no proposal to regulate social media from McCluskey, just a suggestion that its ubiquity meant regulation should be considered.

Scottish ministers had rejected the McCluskey proposals because they were afraid of associating themselves with anything that had been heavily criticised, argued Wishart. “Just because they are unpopular does not mean they are wrong,” she said.

Linklater argued the opposite – “It also doesn’t mean they are right.” He added: “The Scottish Government did not just back away because of the backlash; the closer you look at the report, the scarier it becomes.”

But Wishart insisted that there was no attempt at political interference, arguing: “Leveson and McCluskey are actually trying to dilute previous political interference.”