Press regulation: Time running out for consultation

The urgent drive for press regulation may leave the Scottish Parliament and public with little time to consider the proposals set out north and south of the Border, according to the Culture Secretary.

There may not be enough time for a public consultation on the McCluskey Report on press regulation in Scotland, or for MSPs to scrutinise Westminster’s proposed Royal Charter for press regulation in the UK, Fiona Hyslop told Holyrood.

Opposition parties have pressed the Scottish Government for an urgent debate on the McCluskey Report, which recommends mandatory press regulation underpinned by law.

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But Ms Hyslop said it is appropriate to wait until the middle of April to bring the matter to the Scottish Parliament, to allow time for cross-party discussions and development of the Royal Charter proposals.

The three biggest parties at Westminster have agreed to a Royal Charter, due to be approved by the Queen at a Privy Council meeting in May, which will establish a “recognition panel” to oversee press self-regulation.

But there was immediate division between the parties about the extent to which the new regulator has the “statutory underpinning” demanded by the Hacked Off group campaigning for tighter regulation of the press.

McCluskey concluded that voluntary press regulation is unlikely to work. “The carrots proposed by Leveson are not sufficiently enticing, nor the sticks sufficiently intimidating, to put any real pressure on publishers to join a scheme that replaces light-touch self-regulation,” the report stated.

Speaking in Holyrood, Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: “What was greatly disappointing by the McCluskey Report was the fact that they didn’t consider to any great extent the carrots and sticks, the incentives, that might be used in Scots law.

“The advisers did recommend ten possible incentives. As time is short, is the Cabinet Secretary considering a public consultation so that we can gather views from across Scotland about whether these carrots and sticks are appropriate for Scotland?”

Ms Hyslop said: “He is correct in identifying the need for public consultation, and this would be for the parliament to decide. But we should think about, in the very short period of time, whether there would be an opportunity to do as he suggests.”

She added: “Quite clearly, in terms of timescales, we are quite limited. The Prime Minister has indicated that he would want to take the Royal Charter to the Privy Council in May.

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“However, if there is an opportunity for examination of this then I think it would be preferable if the appropriate committee could take some evidence sessions, so we can have a look at precisely those issues and to what checks and balances can be achieved using Scots law.”

Press regulation in Scotland

The Scottish Government are currently considering the findings of the McCluskey report into press regulation in Scotland.

It backed mandatory regulation of the country’s newspapers, going further than the Leveson report, however First Minister Alex Salmond indicated over the weekend that the curbs underpinned by law was not favoured by his administration.

Mr Salmond’s intervention came as Labour demanded a full Holyrood debate this week on the McCluskey proposals that would see a regulatory body set up by the industry and a “recognition commissioner” appointed by ministers.

• A Scottish solution to Leveson is among the topics under discussion at The Future of the Media in Scotland, 9 April