Press freedom in Scotland “at risk” from UK Government proposals

Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop.
Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop.

Proposals to regulate the press in England and Wales would “pose a potential threat to press freedom” in Scotland, Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop has said.

Ms Hyslop has confirmed that the Scottish Government has not plans to introduce new measures to regulate the press north of the border.

The Culture Secretary’s comments follow the closure this week of the UK Government’s consultation on section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013.

If passed, this would that media organisations which were not signed up to an official regulator would generally have to pay the costs for both sides in libel or privacy claims, whatever the outcome of the case.

Press regulation and the court system are devolved in Scotland and the Culture Secretary has written to the UK Government previously stating that such measures would not apply in Scotland.

Ms Hyslop also said, however, that she believe the viability of independent media would be put at risk.

She said: “A diverse and independent media is vital to sustaining a flourishing democracy. Any movement by the UK Government to action Section 40 must carefully consider potential threats to the health of our democratic life and to the freedom of the press.

“We are committed to ensuring the practices which led to the Leveson Inquiry in the first place do not happen again and we believe that all individuals should have the ability to seek redress when they feel they have been the victim of press malpractice.

“However, the context of press regulation in Scotland is quite distinct from that in England and Wales and section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act does not apply under Scots Law. We have not introduced statutory measures to incentivise participation in the regulatory system, as has happened in Westminster, and I can confirm we have no plans to do so.

“Despite press regulation being devolved, Scottish local and national media could be impacted by any decision to enact section 40 in England and Wales, and it is my view that the measures consulted on by the UK government would put at risk the viability of much of our independent media, particularly local newspapers, and pose a potential threat to freedom of the press.”