Comment: Fallout from Salisbury poisonings sparking frenzied debate

John McLellan is director of the Scottish Newspaper Society and a City of Edinburgh Conservative councillor. Picture: Contributed
John McLellan is director of the Scottish Newspaper Society and a City of Edinburgh Conservative councillor. Picture: Contributed
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It’s always easy to cite shouting fire in a crowded theatre to illustrate the limitations of freedom of expression, or to claim that Nazi Germany is the incontestable proof of the need for laws to control communication.

Neither are helpful in the arguments about whether Russian propaganda station RT should be closed down in the wake of the attempted assassinations in Salisbury, or if ex-First Minister Alex Salmond should quit his RT show. In announcing a review of RT’s broadcast licence, an Ofcom statement said: “Should the UK investigating authorities determine that there was an unlawful use of force by the Russian state against the UK, we would consider this relevant to our ongoing duty to be satisfied that RT is fit and proper.”

So RT could be closed when it is firmly established that Russia was responsible for the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal, yet even before Salisbury the channel and its online sister Sputnik UK were clearly vehicles for Russian propaganda. Ofcom will be making a political not a qualitative decision.

I therefore find myself in the odd position of agreeing with the RT spokesman who said: “Our broadcasting has in no way changed this week, from any other week… By linking RT to unrelated matters, Ofcom is conflating its role as a broadcasting regulator with matters of state.”

In last week’s city council debate about Sputnik UK’s membership of the Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce, I argued that while such an outfit had no place in an organisation dedicated to the growth of Edinburgh business, on principle it was better to let Sputnik operate.

Meanwhile the issue was raised at First Minister’s Questions by Ruth Davidson during which some SNP MSPs predictably compared RT to the BBC, which is as pathetic as it is inaccurate. Similarly ridiculous is any belief that indigenous media can benefit from their absence, as if market share is being lost to Soviet-inspired misinformation.

Better to see exactly what opponents are saying, expose their arguments and mock their cack-handed amateurism.

Hacked Off founder Brian Cathcart has launched an attack on the Daily Mail’s claim that its campaign against the racist killers of black teenager Stephen Lawrence resulted in their convictions. The Mail’s role has been praised by Stephen Lawrence’s mother Doreen, ex-Labour Home Secretary Jack Straw, ex-leader Ed Miliband and senior investigating officers. It was also recognised in a book, The Case of Stephen Lawrence, by one Brian Cathcart.

Last week’s Mail’s story that Cathcart’s research at Kingston University has been funded by Max Mosley, who the Mail also claimed was responsible for the publication of racist political leaflets in the early 60s, is purely coincidental.

Changes at the Advertising Association, whose Scottish affairs manager Lauren Spaven-Donn has moved to Scottish Natural Heritage. The AA’s Scottish engagement programme will be developed by Nations & Regions project director Francesca Woodhouse and day-to-day contacts are being handled by Graylings PR in Edinburgh.

- John McLellan is director of the Scottish Newspaper Society and a City of Edinburgh Conservative councillor