29 Nov Salmond: Scotland will have own response to Leveson
The Leveson Report will receive a uniquely Scottish response, says Salmond
Lord Justice Leveson published recommendations for the future of press regulation in the UK at 1.30pm today (Thursday), after pre-releasing the report to coalition leaders David Cameron and Nick Clegg on Wednesday afternoon.
In his speech, he criticised the close relationship between politicians and the press, reiterated the need to maintain plurality of press ownership and called for an urgent change in regulation.
As press regulation is a devolved responsibility, the Scottish government is preparing for a debate next week at Holyrood to finalise the future of media regulation in Scotland. First Minister Alex Salmond has clearly stated that he will not support state regulation of the press, stating ‘I can’t see there’s going to be a currency of support for that in Scotland – we value our free press far too much’.
Mr Salmond will instead propose a system inimical of the Irish ‘third way’, which steers between statute and self-regulation by appointing an independent Press Council, made up of senior judges and civil servants, who appoint an ombudsman to settle disputes.
Mr Salmond’s position appears to reflect the values within Lord Leveson’s speech. Although the extent to which statute will influence regulation is not yet clear, Lord Justice Leveson suggests the contrary with his statement, “This is not, and cannot reasonably or fairly be characterised as, statutory regulation of the press. I am proposing independent regulation of the press organised by the press itself.”
Salmond and Murdoch
First Minister, Alex Salmond, had been heavily criticised for his proximity to Rupert Murdoch and his advocacy of Newscorp’s bid for BskyB. No hard evidence of any ‘quid pro quo’ relating to Salmond’s support of Murdoch’s bid in return for the Scottish Sun supporting the SNP in the Holyrood elections last year ever emerged despite the usual chorus of accusations from opposition parties and the Scottish newspapers associated with them.
The inferences resulted in a local election result in Scotland which saw the SNP vote fall far lower than expected. The Leveson Report appears to exonerate Scotland’s first minister saying Salmond “cannot be criticised” and arguing that Mr Salmond was indeed acting in the best interests of Scotland in trying to secure jobs in the media sector.
Responding to today’s publication of the Leveson Inquiry report, “a spokesperson for First Minister Alex Salmond” said:
“Today’s report is a complete vindication of the First Minister’s position in terms of the case he was prepared to put to promote Scottish jobs and the wider Scottish economic interest.
“As Lord Leveson himself says, Mr Salmond ‘cannot be criticised’ in respect of the BSkyB takeover issue, and was ‘motivated by an anxiety to help Scottish employment and to benefit Scotland generally’ which was ‘entirely laudable and exactly what is the expectation and proper function of the First Minister’.
“This report drives a coach and horses through the claims of opposition politicians in the Scottish Parliament, whose own parties’ dealings with News Corporation and other major media organisations have been far greater than those of the First Minister.”
After discussion late last night, Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg apparently failed to reach a compromise. It is only the second time the coalition has split and Nick Clegg will deliver a separate response to the House of Commons an hour after David Cameron’s speech today.
The difference in David Cameron’s and Nick Clegg’s positions will no doubt represent the divide between proponents of regulation by statute, widely assumed to be Lord Leveson’s recommendation before the report was released and those who oppose statute regulation.
Regulation by statute will ensure that press institutions are obliged to sign up to an independent body of regulation, whose authority will be legally grounded and encourage press accountability.
‘Hacked Off’, the campaign group for victims of phone hacking led by Hugh Grant, are among those who support statute regulation, believing that a ‘free and accountable press’ can be achieved through “independent regulation backed by the law’.
They are supported by many Liberal Democrat and Labour politicians as well as Michelle Stanistreet, the General Secretary of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ).
Michelle Stanistreet has met opposition from members of the NUJ, as the overwhelming majority of journalists condemn regulation through statute, including the Press Association and the Society of Editors who, along with other organisations, have formed the Free Speech Network.
Mayor of London Boris Johnson and Labour Home Secretary David Blunkett also resist regulation by statute, with Mr Blunkett stating that, “No form of statutory regulation of the press would be possible without the imposition of state licensing – abolished in Britain in 1695. State licensing is inimical to any idea of press freedom and would radically alter the balance of our unwritten constitution.”
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