Media Law Prof Blog

Editor: Christine A. Corcos
Louisiana State Univ.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Press Regulation In Scotland

Interesting discussion over at the blog Lallands Peat Worrier of Scottish reaction to the phone hacking scandal and press regulation in Scotland. This post refers to another post discussing press regulation at another blog called Love and Garbage. Both bloggers are considering the failure of the Scottish PM, Alex Salmond, to propose any regulation of the Scottish press.

Says Love and Garbage in part,

The issues on which the Scottish Parliament (and Scottish government) cannot act are broadly set out in Schedule 5 to the Scotland Act 1998, which includes a reservation in relation to certain topics regarding culture and the media in Head K. The reservations include broadcasting, public lending right, a government indemnity scheme, and tax related transfers of national heritage. The press and regulation of the press does not appear in Head K. Regulation of the press does not appear anywhere in Schedule 5. This is a devolved topic. And if the SNP government had the will to do anything about the potential implications of press behaviour in Scotland after Operation Motorman they – and not Westminster – could have acted. In fact if Westminster had acted across the Uk the Scottish Parliament would have required to pass a Sewel motion to assent to Westminster dealing with devolved territory.

Salmond and the SNP have failed, as all politicians and political parties have failed, to take press regulation seriously after the Operation Motorman reports. The failure even to comment over the past five years, and to try – even now – to pass the buck to Westminster, is shameful.

Contrary to the posturing of the First Minister this is not just a Westminster problem. This is also a Holyrood problem. And in failing to take seriously the Guardian stories on phone hacking, and the Information Commissioner’s reports on Operation Motorman this has been a shameful abrogation of responsibility for the whole of our political class.

Responds Lallands Peat Worrier in part,

Salmond presents us with an image of the virtuous devolved authority, faces writ with concern, looking on as Westminster authorities did sod all. It's beyond my control, it says, with a sorrowful shrug.  It wisnae me, he implies, and on press regulation suggests - or near as damn it - that the SNP would haven regulated differently, but couldn't, so didn't. You can almost hear the distant refrain our opponents find so tiresome ~ "in an independent Scotland..." In fact, in terms of Scottish press regulation, the proper formulation is that the SNP could have done something and didn't - in large part because like (almost) everybody else, the party wasn't wildly interested in the Information Commissioner's (2006) report What price privacy? The Unlawful trade in confidential personal information and the follow-up six months later, What price privacy now? To imply otherwise is understandable but clearly dexterous positioning in the prevailing political atmosphere.
There are number of dimensions to this. Firstly, the devolution settlement. Is press regulation within Holyrood (and thus the SNP's) powers or not? Secondly, what does it tell us that most folk (even one suspects in the parliament) might be surprised to discover the answer to my first question is yes? Thirdly, what are the implications of Holyrood's freedom to act here? What actions might it consider taking, and why?

Both posts worth reading in their entirety.

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