We have now received an official transcript of the main elements of First Minister Alex Salmond’s speech at our recent conference, in particular the passages on press regulation and VAT
Said SNS director John McLellan: “The First Minister’s highly entertaining and warm speech was very well received by the industry and we were very grateful to him for clarifying the Scottish Government’s position on key issues.”
Here is the text:
“A vibrant independent press is vital to any modern democracy. And it’s especially important at a time like this, when Scotland is being offered faces its most important decision, its biggest and most important democratic opportunity in over three centuries.
“That’s why it’s a pleasure to attend this inaugural Scottish Newspaper Society Conference.
“I know that the press awards start later on, but I want to congratulate everyone who has been shortlisted for this evening. The shortlists give an idea of the diversity and quality of the Scottish press at your best – your reporting on issues from the Clutha tragedy to living with dementia; your campaigns on matters from cyber-bullying to dangerous dogs.
“Alongside the national titles, a large number of local newspapers are recognised – from the Shetland Times to the Ayrshire Post. Any MSP knows the importance of the role local newspapers play in communities across the country. It’s good to see that contribution being acknowledged in today’s shortlist.”
“I want to speak to you about two things this afternoon. I’m going to finish by returning to the independence referendum, and its implications and opportunities for the press. But I want to begin by talking about the Government’s current position on press regulation.
“It’s an area which has seen some significant progress in the last year. I welcome that; and I also welcome the constructive role of the Scottish Newspaper Society.
“To take one example, your proposal to include information about defamation of the deceased in the new handbook on the Editors’ Code is a good one. It should reduce the chance of any recurrence again of the circumstances which caused such heartache and grief to the Watson family. It should make a genuine difference to reporting, not just in Scotland, but also across the rest of the UK.
“The new Editors’ Code and Handbook is part of a much wider series of efforts to improve self-regulation. My view is that the new Independent Press Standards Organisation will go a long way towards meeting Lord Justice Leveson’s proposals for independent self regulation.
“But it’s important to set out the Scottish Government’s position, and to remind you of the context. We are working within a mandate, set by a motion that was passed unanimously in the Scottish Parliament twelve months ago. The point about unanimity is important. This isn’t an SNP position; the mandate was agreed by all party leaders, and passed unanimously by the parliament.
“The mandate required the Scottish Government to work with the UK Government to agree the text of a Royal Charter that implemented the Leveson recommendations in a way which was workable in Scotland. We did that.
“A key part of the Leveson recommendations was to have an independent recognition panel to assess whether the Charter’s requirements have been met.
“The Scottish Newspaper Society is considering how a new regulator can be scrutinised or questioned by a committee of the Scottish Parliament. I welcome the intentions behind that move – it shows a willingness to be creative about how to retain public confidence in the new regulator.
“But the current proposals are different from agreeing to a recognition panel, and in my view are less satisfactory. In fact, the recognition panel may be a better way of safeguarding press independence – because the Parliament won’t have a role in it.
“The Royal Charter also requires that the independent press regulatory body should offer an arbitration service. It makes it clear that the Arbitration (Scotland) Act 2010 can underpin such a system.
“Under these proposals, a recognised press regulator is required to offer an arbitration service; nobody is required to use that service. Arbitration itself cannot be compulsory.
“However arbitration would make available a cost-effective and relatively quick method of settlement. It would be especially valuable for people who feel they have been victims of defamation or breaches of privacy. It would benefit newspapers by reducing legal costs and expenses.
“There’s an important point here about both arbitration and recognition. Nobody at Westminster or Holyrood is calling for state regulation of the press. We seek a defined underpinning for independent self-regulation of the press.
“The reason for that is that following the Leveson Inquiry, and the events leading up to it, the public expects change. And so the Scottish Government’s basic view is quite clear. We strongly welcome the significant progress that has been made in the last year, but we believe that the press should agree to the independent recognition panel, and should provide arbitration services. Those two remaining steps would be good for public confidence in the press, and good for the press itself.”
Press regulation after independence”
The debate about regulation sometimes gets entwined with the debate about independence, and so I also want to talk about that.
“Regulation of the press has been devolved since 1999; and of course Scotland has always had its own legal system. Yet newspapers have always shared the same regulation system across the UK. 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 a devolved Scotland.
“The other concern which is sometimes expressed is about the current exemption on VAT. That exemption would be retained. Scotland would pursue European Union membership based on continuity of effect – meaning that there would be no detriment to other members. We would retain our existing obligations and treaty provisions, including the ability to exempt newspapers from VAT.
“So thereis no regulatory or financial threat to the newspaper industry from independence. None whatsoever.
“There is an opportunity, however. Becoming national titles of an independent nation state could make the press here more widely purchased, and even more vigorous.
“The second opportunity is even more definite and more immediate.
“I spoke at the Herald’s politician of the year awards last autumn, and said that there could be no better time to be in public service than just now. I’d hope that a lot of you feel that there is no better time to be in journalism.
“I know that this industry faces challenges – technological change and resulting shifts in advertising patterns and readership habits.
t come round for more than 300 years.is something quite special.”
“Although I’m sure that the party I lead will continue to have – let’s call them honest disagreements… – with the press from time to time, I understand – as all serious politicians across all parties understand – that the work of Scottish newspapers is fundamental to the health of Scottish society and Scottish democracy.
“So I wish all of the nominated newspapers and journalists well for tonight. I’m delighted the Scottish Newspaper Society has organised this event. And I hope that it’s the first of many more successful conferences in the years to come.”