First Minister Alex Salmond wants regulator with power to censor anyone with adverse opinion. THE PROSPECT of Soviet style total media censorship coming to Scotland has taken a significant leap forward with the conclusions of Lord McCluskey’s Expert Group on the Leveson Report in Scotland, prepared for First Minister Alex Salmond who wants to appoint a regulator with powers to sanction anyone who produces news or comment in print form or on the internet.
The now widely criticised report, prepared by the former Solicitor General in consultation with a number of others including lawyers such as Peter Watson of Levy Mcrae (who count among their clients former Lord Advocate now Dame Elish Angiolini DBE QC, née McPhilomy and former Glasgow City Council Boss & Cocaine addict Steven Purcell) and who also recently represented Mr Salmond personally in a failed complaint against the Daily Mail newspaper, aims to silence anyone in Scotland with an opinion that does not match those who want to keep criticism & scandal out of the limelight.
16 Mar 2013
SCOTLAND'S First Minister wants to appoint a regulator with powers to sanction anyone who produces news, comment or celebrity gossip – in print or digital.
ALEX SALMOND yesterday stood accused of plotting a draconian law that will have a chilling impact on freedom of speech and cost thousands of jobs.
The First Minister wants to appoint a regulator with powers to sanction ANYONE who produces news, comment or celebrity gossip – in print or digital.
Salmond hired an expert group headed by Lord John McCluskey to work out how Lord Leveson’s plan to regulate the press could be adopted in Scotland. But their report – branded Loch Leveson – said the powers of the regulator in Scotland should be beefed up to cover the web and publications other than newspapers.
They also recommended legislation to cover Twitter and Facebook.
Unlike the English system, Loch Leveson will regulate opinion pieces and even what they call scandalous gossip about celebrity.
In theory, bloggers such as schoolgirl Martha Payne, who complained about her school dinners, could be hauled before the regulator and fined.Even a local church magazine could fall foul of what Tory leader Ruth Davidson described as “the most draconian press controls in the western world”. The Bill would make it compulsory for every newspaper to fund the new system. Experts say it would cost £1.5million a year – mainly in fees to lawyers. It could signal the death of scores of local newspapers and cost thousands of jobs.
Sink this attack on democracy
The Leveson inquiry into press ethics was held in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal at Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World. But the Scottish move goes even further than the controversial recommendations made last year by Lord Justice Leveson. Scotland would face tighter control of its print media than the rest of the UK, where Leveson recommended a voluntary system of self-regulation.
All written news material in Scotland – from the biggest national newspapers and magazines to the smallest church newsletter – would be affected. In a further departure from the Leveson recommendations, the rules would apply to all internet news media.
The report even suggests they could be extended to social networking websites like Twitter. That means anyone commenting on Facebook or posting on a website about celebrities or current affairs could fall foul of the regulator.
McCluskey’s committee said a two-tier system should be created by law. The first level would be a UK regulator set up by the press. The second tier would be a Scottish “recognition body” to ensure the regulator complied with the principles laid down by Leveson.
Crucially, the report suggests Government ministers would have the power to appoint the head of the recognition body – opening the door to state interference with the press for the first time in centuries.
Salmond was last night accused of attempting to shackle the press. Critics fear they could be used to muzzle newspapers in the run up to next year’s referendum.
Former journalist Davidson said: “With the First Minister now saying he will consider the expert group’s findings, there’s a real danger the threat of legislation will be kept hanging over the heads of editors as the referendum approaches.
“Even more astonishing is the proposal for the regulator to be responsible for news comment on the internet and for the newspaper industry to provide all the funds.
“It cannot be right that an industry already in crisis should be expected to pay for the regulation of the very thing that’s killing it off.
“We are, however, pleased that the expert group has recognised there’s no specific need for a Scotland-only regulator and a single regulator can operate across the whole UK as at present.”
McCluskey’s panel included David Sinclair, director of communications at Victim Support Scotland, legal academics Neil Walker and Peter Watson and journalist Ruth Wishart.
Their report was hurriedly published yesterday after the collapse of talks at Westminster to find a common way forward for the UK.
McCluskey said a UK-wide regulator could still be set up if a deal can be reached between David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg.
But while Leveson recommended a “carrot-and-sticks” approach to get newspapers to sign up to a voluntary regulator, McCluskey’s panel said they had “little confidence” this would encourage publishers to sign up.
They said: “We have reached the view that there is no practical alternative to making it compulsory for all news-related publishers to be subject to the new system of regulation,”
Salmond praised the “extremely thorough” report, saying: “It is for the parliaments in London and in Scotland to establish a recognition process.
“It is for the press to bring forward a voluntary regulatory body compliant with Leveson principles. I hope this is still possible.”
But Scots Labour leader Johann Lamont said: “We agreed with the First Minister that this group should look solely at the technicalities of implementing Leveson in Scots law.
“We did not agree to the Leveson recommendations being rewritten or built upon.”
The McCluskey report was commissioned by Alex Salmond to look at how the recommendations of the Leveson report could be implemented in Scotland. The findings go further than those of Lord Justice Leveson last year.
McCluskey report at a glance
All newspapers and magazine publishers would be forced to sign up to the regulator. Under the Leveson proposals, this would have been voluntary but came with incentives such as lower damages in the event of libel action.
A recognition body would be set up – appointed by ministers – to ensure the regulator was sticking to the rules. They would have the power to overrule the regulator.
The regulator could have the power to censure newspapers, magazines and websites, including gossip sites. Leveson made no recommendations on policing the internet or ruling on celebrity gossip.
McCluskey’s group said further regulation of social media may also be required, opening the door to Facebook posts and Twitter being scrutinised.
Major publishers would have to meet the cost for setting up and running the regulator but websites – many of which generate millions of pounds for their owners – are likely to be exempt from paying.
Analysis - by media lawyer Campbell Deane
WHEN Alex Salmond announced an expert group to advise on the most appropriate means of regulating the newspaper industry, the writing was on the wall.
He wasn’t asking the group whether there was a need to implement Leveson’s proposals in Scotland. He was asking them how to achieve it.
That decision was astonishingly short-sighted. We have not had a Millie Dowler or Madeleine McCann in Scotland. We have not even come close.
We have had no phone- hacking scandal. Journalists as a rule in Scotland have behaved. These were London-centric issues for which the Scottish newspaper industry was being punished without guilt.
And yet Salmond’s panel of experts recommend the Scottish Parliament creates a regulator to prevent serious abuses of the kind which don’t occur in Scotland. Not content with implementing Leveson’s recommendations, the panel have chosen to go further by bringing under regulation all publishers of news-related material.
This country prides itself on free speech yet the panel recommended implementing proposals that could mean gossiping about the rich and famous online with your friends would get you into trouble.
By its nature, comment allows people to express their views. That should not be restricted.
At a time when newspapers are struggling for their very existence, they will be asked to fund complaints based on comment and gossip which have nothing to do with them.
They will put a financial burden on the Scottish industry that may push some newspapers over the edge.
How the loss of indigenous Scottish titles will benefit Scotland is beyond me.