The Scottish government has confirmed that press regulation would continue under the UK’s Royal Charter legislation in the event of a Yes vote in the referendum on independence this year.
Since the Royal Charter was passed in October there has been some confusion over how the legislation will apply to titles in Scotland, and since the Scottish government published its white paper in November questions have been raised about how the press industry in Scotland would operate if the country became independent.
A Scottish government spokesman told The Drum: “With the agreement of the Scottish government, the Royal Charter on self-regulation of the press that was ordered to be sealed at a meeting of the Privy Council on 30 October 2013 extends to Scotland.
“That Charter establishes a recognition mechanism for a new regulator that meets certain criteria. It will be for the press to actually establish a regulator or regulators. Independence need make no difference to this.”
Before the UK government published its proposals for press regulation the Scottish government commissioned the McCluskey Report to examine how press regulation could be tackled north of the border.
The report, released in March, received a strong backlash from media and politicians after its recommendation for a fee-based regulatory system raised fears of newspaper licensing.
The Royal Charter has endured a similar backlash from many of the major media outlets and the press industry is pushing ahead with the creation of the Independent Press Standards Organisation – a move criticised by regulation campaign group Hacked off.
John McLellan, director of the Scottish Newspaper Society and former editor of the Scotsman, said: “By September [month of the Scottish referendum] IPSO will only have been up and running for a maximum of 20 weeks and will not have had the time to prove its worth.
“Setting aside the referendum, I doubt whether a verdict can be delivered on IPSO for some considerable time and I cannot imagine that politicians of any hue will want to pick a fight with the press over regulation going into the 2015 general election.”
McLellan added that the prospect of a battle with a regional press hostile to media interference from politicians could be another factor deterring electioneering politicians from taking too keen an interest in the area.
“The role of the regional press in this regards is crucial,” he went on. “On the ground, candidates will not worry too much about what the national papers are saying, but the last thing any of them need is a fight with their local paper.
“Almost all of the major regional publishers have rejected the UK government’s Royal Charter plan and signed up to IPSO, so candidates championing political interference in press regulation might find their local paper less than sympathetic.”
However, pro-Charter group Hacked Off blasted the resistance from publishers to the new legislation, which requires the creation of a self-regulation Recognition Panel that would be underpinned by the law to ensure it was effective.
Dr Evan Harris, associate director of Hacked Off, said: “Victims of press intrusion have waited decades for real change in the way newspapers regulate their behaviour. 2014 will be another important step forward, with victims having a voice to compete with the press propaganda megaphone.
“Some newspaper groups will press ahead with the non-Leveson, non-Charter approved PCC mark two they call IPSO. The public will have no faith in IPSO and neither will parliament.
“Just as the newspapers have demanded of the banks, the press’s own corporate renegades will not be able to escape the need for effective independent regulation. The more they dissemble and deceive, the more they will bring it on themselves.”