In My Opinion: David Sinclair: One week on from the ‘McCluskey Report’

WHEN the ‘McCluskey Report’ on regulation of the media in Scotland was published a week ago, the response of the Press, including most Scottish publications, was a chorus of concerns about the ‘threat’ it posed to Press freedom.

The suggestion of ‘compulsory’ legislation was the subject of particular vitriol.

What everyone seems to have ignored is that the original reference to such legislation came from Prime Minister, David Cameron, in his evidence to the Leveson Inquiry into Press standards, held last year, when he stated: “What we have to deliver is that it is compulsory and has all those things that I said, ie independence, penalties, compulsion, toughness, public confidence and all the rest of it.”

Of course, that was prior to his decision to capitulate to the ranks of editors and media owners who demanded that they have their say and vetoes on whatever was to be introduced. What we are left with is a barely-workable system underpinned by at least a dab of statute as long as all relevant news publishers participate in the scheme.

Predictably, some of the major titles do not like the ‘shape of the game’ and are either taking legal advice with a view to not participating or have already announced that they will not be players.

So what then? Lord Leveson was quite specific. Creating victims of media abuse had to stop and that required regulation. Given all of the platitudes flowing from newspapers at the time of the inquiry, he had every reason to believe that all publications would participate in a scheme that would address future abuse, particularly when that would mean working to a new code which they wrote themselves.

Am I surprised that titles which quite happily live with media regulation in Ireland are so opposed to a UK-wide scheme? Not for a second, and that was certainly why I saw a need for no opting-out from membership of whatever scheme was agreed.

The Press freedom argument needs to be studied more closely. No title would be prevented from reporting any subject as long as what they report is accurate. That was always the case. Where the system broke down was in the methods used by journalists, plus the huge amount of inaccurate or false content published in too many cases to mention here – but the McCann and the Dowler cases are prime examples.

Where now? In more than half a century, the media has demonstrated on a number of occasions that it is has failed to self-regulate. We can continue as we are in the hope that will change or government, UK or Scottish, may determine that without the participation of all the significant players, that the ‘game is up’ for self-regulation of the media.

David Sinclair is a former assistant editor at The Herald, plus a former president of the National Union of Journalists, and is now head of communications at Victim Support Scotland. He was also one of the five-strong ‘expert panel’ convened at the end of last year by First Minister, Alex Salmond, to consider how the recommendations, following the Leveson Inqury into Press standards, might apply in Scotland. In other words, he is a co-author of the McCluskey Report. This column follows one he penned for on Sunday.