Nothing exposes the UK political parties’ determination to pursue their “Royal Charter” on press regulation more than the court case that is unfolding re former News International CEO Rebecca Brooks, and ex News of the World Editor, Andy Coulson, et al.
It is clear that the law is throwing the book at a small number of executives from one company. We can speculate and ultimately determine whether this is justified or not. But legitimate legal process is in play.
What this case exposes is the stupidity of government intervention in the running of the industry. The defendants are facing serious charges across a range of established legal frameworks that already recognise decency, privacy, honesty and the rights of individuals.
The UK press industry has responded resolutely to the issues that the case has raised, and as I’ve written before, the witchhunt for further vengeance does nothing but demean the UK’s global image as a society of freedom of expression, which the international media community have condemned. The laws demonstrably already exist.
Meanwhile in Scotland, where press regulation is a devolved power, publishers correctly, at the time, aligned themselves to the position being taken in London. There are good reasons why they are awaiting the London outcome. Despite the industry’s best efforts, this has not landed perfectly. Hence a win-win opportunity for the Scottish Government, and the publishers.
Scotland’s ebullient First Minister, Alex Salmond, has uncharacteristically missed a trick. His initial response to the Leveson machinations was to argue for a free press in Scotland, separate from the UK. The subsequent farcical McLuskey report destroyed any opportunity for debate regarding Scotland’s devolved position on press freedom.
The Scottish Government, which is seeking broader international recognition, with ambitions for independence, has an opportunity to distance itself from a dubious process that has seen the UK’s rating on the World Press Freedom Index fall from 18 to 28.
There is a strong correlation between the quality of press freedom, and economic prosperity, which is seriously observed by the World Bank and IMF. Both UK and Scottish governments need to take notice.