The Scottish Newspaper Society has asked the Scottish Government to amend its Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill currently going through the Scottish Parliament, to protect responsible news publishers from lengthy police investigations arising from politically and ideologically-driven complaints.
Following discussion at the last SNS editors committee, director John McLellan wrote to Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf to explain there was a strong feeling that strong freedom of expression defences would not prevent lengthy, costly and worrying police investigations into complaints under the new “Stirring up hatred” offences detailed in Part 2 of the legislation .
The editors agreed that as the threat of investigation was as much a danger to Press freedom as successful prosecution, an absolute exemption would be necessary
Writing to Mr Yousaf last month, SNS director John McLellan said, “As a safeguard against the triggering of police investigation into politically or ideologically-driven complaints against responsible publishers, we still feel the best way forward is for the legislation to carry an absolute exemption.”
Since the letter was written, the Scottish Government’s proposed strengthening of freedom of expression defences have been withdrawn and instead Mr Yousaf is seeking consensus on a broad free speech clause which would be added at Stage 3 of parliamentary scrutiny.
John McLellan added: “It is far from ideal that something as fundamental as freedom of expression should be subject to behind-the-scenes horse-trading rather than an open debate, but the SNS hopes its amendment will feature in the new discussions and be included in the re-drafted legislation.”
The amendment, a new section for Part 2 of the legislation, is as follows:
- Responsible news publication exemption.
A news publisher or broadcaster, and its employees and contracted contributors, which independently scrutinises the activities of public institutions, will be exempt from prosecution under the provisions of Part Two if
- It holds a company and business address, and all details are available either in its titles and publications or in a readily identifiable location.
- It can demonstrate transparency and identification of authorship of all published and broadcast content.
- It carries legal responsibility for its published content.
- It conforms to industry-recognised standards and its journalists, broadcasters and writers conform to a publicly available code of conduct.
- Can demonstrate participation in a transparent complaints process (both legal and non-legal).