By Anne-Marie O’Donnell
First Minister Alex Salmond has reinforced the Scottish government’s commitment to press regulation in the wake of a series of scandals in the UK media industry.
In a speech to the Scottish Newspaper Society conference in Glasgow, Mr Salmond said there was nothing to prevent the UK government’s plan for a Royal Charter to underpin press regulation from applying in an independent Scotland, as it would in a devolved Scotland, and pointed out that the Scottish parliament’s acceptance of the legislation 12 months ago was unanimous.
“The debate on regulation sometimes gets intertwined with the debate on independence,” he said. “Regulation of the press has been devolved since 1999 and of course Scotland has its own legal system.
“Newspapers have shared the same regulation system across the UK and there’s absolutely no reason why that couldn’t continue after independence. Indeed, the Royal Charter could apply to an independent Scotland just as easily as it could apply to a devolved Scotland.”
On the subject of the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) – the press industry’s self-regulator being created to replace to Press Complaints Commission in the summer – Mr Salmond welcomed “significant progress” from the press industry but urged it to agree to meet the Royal Charter’s criteria, something IPSO refuses to do.
IPSO is backed by most of the main newspaper publishers, such as News UK and Telegraph Media Group, but it has been heavily criticised by campaign group Hacked Off, which claims it will be no different to the Press Complaints Commission – which was criticised in the Leveson Report into press ethics – and will not make the newspaper industry accountable.
Recent scandals in the newspaper industry such as phone-hacking have seen public trust plummet, but while the industry claims the government is attempting to impose state regulation, Mr Salmond dismissed the idea and said parliaments in both the UK and Scotland were responding to the public’s concerns.
“I have many disagreements with my political opponents both at Holyrood and Westminster but I don’t know anyone who is calling for state regulation of the press,” he said.
“There is a seeking of an underpinning of independent self-regulation of the press and the reason for that is that following the Leveson Inquiry and the events leading up to it the parliaments are responding to what they interpret as a public desire for change.”
The controversy over the government’s proposal for press regulation hangs on the creation of a recognition panel that would aim to ensure the independence and proper functioning of the press’s regulator. The industry as a whole is strongly against the idea of any influence from parliament on the make-up of the regulator, but Mr Salmond said it would be a positive change.
“It could be argued a recognition panel might be a better way of safeguarding the press’s independence because politicians by definition will have no role in it,” he said.