As we reported on Friday, the Expert Group on Leveson established by the First Minister, Alex Salmond, recommended a statutory recognition body, a regulator with jurisdiction over all publishers in Scotland and a “failsafe”. There is a BBC report about these recommendations, “McCluskey Report recommends legal press regulation in Scotland“.
Ruth Wishart, a member of the Group and the former assistant editor of the Sunday Mail, Scotsman and Sunday Standard has written about the report in the Scotsman. She concludes
Our report also comes complete with a draft bill on press standards, building on the DCMS variety, though more in the form of a guide to parliamentary drafters of any Scottish legislation.
Those folks in London hyperventilating in advance of Monday’s Westminster debate might like to note its very first line: “The Scottish ministers must, when exercising their functions, have regard to the importance of the right of the press to freedom of expression.”
However, the Group’s report has not found favour with the Scottish Conservatives. Their leader, Ruth Davidson MSP, has condemned the findings of the Expert Group on the Leveson Report in Scotland. She said
“This is a shameless attempt by the First Minister to shackle a free Press at a time of the utmost political sensitivity … This is not statutory underpinning but statutory control which would give Scotland some of the most draconian press controls in the Western World“.
The Scotsman reported on “Fears Scots press facing draconian measures” – these “fears” were, apparently, of “shocked Labour and Conservative MSPs”. They were, however, predictably, shared by the Scottish newspapers. In a leader, the Scotsman complained that “McCluskey report steps well beyond remit“.
The Daily Record’s report was entitled “Press freedom under threat as Alex Salmond’s draconian Bill threatens to censor anyone with an opinion” while the Glasgow Evening Press has an opinion column entitled “Press Gag would shame our nation“.
With characteristic restraint, the Scottish Sun has a piece entitled “The day of the shackle – Death warrant brings down curtain on a free Scottish Press” (accompanied by the illustration above)
None of these critics engage with the actual recommendations of the Expert Group Report or explain how a Leveson compliant regulator (which would have no power to prevent publication – see Recommendation 17) would actual “gag” anyone. The repeated repetition of the word “draconian” is used as a substitute for argument. There is nothing in the report which would give rise to political control over the press. The “failsafe” regulator to be established by Scottish ministers in the event that a self-regulator was not set up by the press would only be recognised if it complied with Lord Justice Leveson’s recommendations in his report.