This Wednesday (May 9) some Scottish MPs are lining up to vote through new draconian laws to penalise all news publishers seemingly in the mistaken belief that somehow Scottish publications will be unaffected.
The Scottish Government has repeatedly said it does not support tighter regulation of the Press, yet its MPS are set to support a series of measures which are part of a vendetta against certain newspapers led by Labour deputy leader Tom Watson.
An amendment to the Data Protection Bill by ex-Labour leader Ed Miliband will set up a huge investigation into the whole media industry, including radio and TV, which could dwarf the Leveson Inquiry and further drain taxpayer resources.
While Google and Facebook hoover up digital revenues, all media companies are wrestling with the challenge of how to fund top quality journalism and the last thing they need is another sprawling inquiry which would divert money, talent and time from the important business of reporting the news.
Further, a new law will be introduced in which English courts could force news publishers to pay all the legal costs of the claimant, estimated at a minimum of £15,000 just to strike out one baseless claim, even if a court found every word printed was entirely justified.
Some 85 per cent of the local press would be caught by this regime, and although the legal costs sanction against publications which refuse to join a state-sponsored regulator would not apply in Scotland, the financial implications would still be felt by Scottish titles owned by UK-wide publishers.
As the measures are attached to Data Protection, it affects any information relating to living individuals, even an elderly couple celebrating their golden wedding anniversary, and leaves publications vulnerable to action by those with an axe to grind.
The UK now has a worse record for
press freedom than any other western European nation apart from Italy, slipping down to 40th in the World Press Freedom Index for 2018, the lowest ever position.
Since the Leveson Report five years ago, self-regulation of the Press has changed dramatically. The new Independent Press Standards Organisation, led by former appeal court judge Sir Alan Moses, has real powers based in civil law which allows it to impose £1m fines for the most serious breaches.
Now 15 best-selling UK newspapers are signing up to IPSO’s compulsory arbitration scheme which avoids the need for expensive court action.
SNS Director John McLellan said: “The system of self-regulation introduced and funded by the industry follows the Leveson recommendations with the exception of giving politicians control. What kind of free press cedes control to the very people it is supposed to hold to account?
“Yet these amendments are designed to give politicians with an agenda the ability to shackle publications they don’t like and as such would be little short of an attack on the right of UK citizens to know the truth.
“I would urge anyone who values freedom of speech to contacting their MP today and urge them to vote against deeply undemocratic proposals. “