Scottish party leaders were yesterday in talks to find an “appropriate way forward” in implementing press regulation plans.
At the forefront of their minds should have been the principle of protecting free speech from the implications of the cobbled together Royal Charter rushed through Westminster last month.
The damaging charter was drawn up in the small hours in the presence of pressure groups and lobbyists; the MPs who waved it through had not even had a chance to read it before saying “aye”; and whatever the supposed intention, it is an absurd and anti-libertarian attack on the freedom of the press and freedom of speech itself.
This newspaper hopes – rather than expects – that having had time to digest the content those Holyrood party leaders, who had the sense to not adopt the recommendations of the parliament’s own inquiry led by Lord McCluskey, choose to reject the royal charter.
Culture secretary Fiona Hyslop has been in talks with Westminster over how the charter could be implemented in Scotland. That would require some “relatively small technical amendments”, she says.
Hogwash. The charter, and its moves towards press censorship, crippling cost arrangements and encouragement of complaints from third parties, needs tearing up.
That is, of course, unless the Scottish Parliament is happy to see a situation develop that neuters press freedom and proscribes what “relevant publishers” can say on the internet.
Ms Hyslop has been busy trying to sell the prospect to newspapers. In her effort to do so she wrote to the Scottish Newspaper Society in the aftermath of what she said was a constructive meeting. Then she turned to Public Information Notices – that is the kind of notice which authorities place in newspapers to inform readers about road closures, planning developments and proposed changes to services. The kind of things which have a direct impact on day-to-day life.
You may ask what that has to do with press regulation. What indeed? Well according to Ms Hyslop: “The future of PINs, in continuing to support newspapers, was in the context of membership of a self-regulated body of the press and would be a useful decision.”
In other words do what we ask, or lose out financially. That is nothing short of crude financial blackmail, which combined with censorship by the back door amounts to an attack on the press and a attack on free speech. The Shetland Times will continue to object to that.