The Leveson Report

Wednesday, December 5th, 2012 @ 2:02PM

Members of the Scottish Parliament discussed the Leveson Report in a debate on December 4th. Kezia contributed, stating her support and asking for the First Minister’s cooperation with its findings. Her speech is published below, and you can read the full debate here.

I commend Dennis Robertson for his incredibly moving speech. He has an incredible ability to grab members’ attention in a way that few other members can. I thank him for that.

Presiding Officer, I understand that I have only four minutes. If that is the case, I make it clear from the start that I will not take any interventions.

Lord Justice Leveson describes the press—all of it—as

“the guardian of the interests of the public, as a critical witness to events”

and

“as the standard bearer for those who have no one else to speak up for them.”

He goes on to quote Thomas Jefferson, who said:

“Where the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe.”

Those are fine words indeed.

However, for someone to say that they support Leveson does not mean that they oppose a free press. I argue that regulation is often, in fact, the enabler of freedom. For example, the Financial Services Authority’s regulations against insider trading help to ensure the freedom of the market. A press that is subject to the independent regulation that Lord Justice Leveson has proposed will still be a free press.

We need to recognise the pressures that newspapers are under in a 24-hour news cycle and with the explosion of online and social media. I am a news addict, but that does not mean that I buy lots of newspapers. I consume most of my news online and I rarely pay for it. I get the news headlines every morning from Twitter, with my hairdryer in one hand and my iPhone in the other—members can picture it if they dare. There is a big question mark over the financial viability of newspapers, which have yet to find a way in which to make money from making news available free of charge. Leveson refers to that when he states:

“social media such as Twitter have … contributed to a dramatic change to the cost base and economic model on which newspapers are based.”

In his view, that has

“increased the pressure for exclusive stories.”

We can see how the temptation to behave badly could build.

I raise that issue in order to provide some economic context for Leveson. It is hard to see how we will be able to get the cultural revolution that we need from the press without ensuring its financial sustainability. I argue that the freedom of the press is under far greater attack from the changing nature of the economics of journalism than from anything in Leveson. I fail to see how the cost of two regulators will in any way help with that.

At First Minister’s question time last week, Johann Lamont asked the First Minister when he last complained to a newspaper about its coverage. He replied:

“I will check the record and see whether I can help Johann Lamont with that.”—[Official Report, 29 November 2012; c 14118.]

I understand that that information is still to be disclosed. Surely, in the light of all that has been discussed today, the First Minister understands the need to keep his promise. In that spirit, I wonder whether he will comment on that in closing, and whether he will reflect on paragraph 134 of the executive summary of the Leveson report, which is in the section headed “The press and politicians”. In that paragraph, Lord Justice Leveson states:

“I have recommended as a first step that political leaders reflect constructively on the merits of publishing on behalf of their party a statement setting out, for the public, an explanation of the approach they propose to take as a matter of party policy in conducting relationships with the press.”

If we are to take the First Minister’s word in good faith and accept that he is committed to changing the nature of the press in this country and its relationship with politicians, surely he will tell us today when he will answer Johann Lamont’s question and also when he will commit to publishing his statement of how he deals with the press.

 

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