Media Charging Proposal Potentially in Breach of European Law

A lecturer in media law at Glasgow Caledonian University has been quoted describing plans to charge journalists for reporting the results of the General Election from Glasgow's Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre as potentially in breach of European legislation.

It follows officials at the SECC announcing that journalists covering next month’s election count would be offered ‘a media package’ for £50 – cut from an original price of £100.

The Press Gazette carries a story about it by Glasgow journalist, Erik Geddes.

Media law lecturer, Brian Pillans, is quoted: “The media play a vital role in democracy – being the eyes and ears of the electorate when it comes to reporting a count. Here, a fee has been imposed either directly or indirectly (through the SECC) by Glasgow City Council [which 91 per cent owns the SECC].

“To impose such a fee it must be within the council's powers. The Human Rights Act 1998 states that public bodies do not have the power to act incompatibly with the European Convention on Human Rights; and crucially Article 10 of the Convention provides a guarantee of freedom of expression.

“Since these charges act as a hindrance to the reporting of the democratic process this is a restriction on freedom of expression. Glasgow City Council requires to justify the restriction in the sense that it pursues a legitimate aim and is proportionate and necessary in a democratic society. I doubt if the local authority can justify this where it has not charged in the past; therefore the imposition of charges would be ultra vires (beyond the powers of) Glasgow City Council or the SECC and void.” 

Adds Geddes: “A letter, from John Sharkey, SECC goup chief executive, dated the 23rd of this month, explained how a standard media package which now costs £50 comprises a table, two chairs, a double electric socket and high-speed wireless connection. The letter read: 'I am sure you will agree that this represents excellent value for the whole evening.'

“Of all the other major council area counts across Scotland not one that we spoke to will charge reporters for electricity use on election night.”

He quotes Grace Franklin, editor of Local News Glasgow: “There must be a simple way to report democracy freely. It is hard to take for local papers who are being made to pay for reporting news.”

The Press Gazette contacted Glasgow City Council,who responded thus: “The council is not imposing any charges on the media for covering the election count. Although we are providing tables and chairs, the council cannot justify the cost of paying for power or internet access for the media or other commercial organisations.

“Anyone requiring these facilities would have to liaise directly with the SECC.”

Also quoted is Paul Holleran, National Union of Journalists' Organiser in Scotland, who said: “Politicians complain that the press in this country do not cover political stories on the scale they want, but if these types of charges are implemented they can rest assured there will be even less coverage of elections and conferences in future.”

Geddes told “It's not for me to say what is right and what's wrong. However, its interesting to see this charge being questioned on legal grounds.”