Scottish Publishers Unite Against Data Protection Bill Press Curbs

Scottish publishers have spoken out against draconian press curbs tagged onto the Data Protection Bill by the House of Lords at a packed Scottish Newspaper Society parliamentary reception for MPs last week.

The audience heard from speakers including Bill Laidlaw, proprietor of independent publisher DNG Media, who spoke powerfully about the challenges facing local news media and warning of the dire effects for local journalism if the curbs were brought into force.  

The event also heard from outgoing Media Scotland managing director Allan Rennie about the threat to publications large and small from the increasing burden of regulation threatened by new data protection restrictions and the sponsor of the event MP for Edinburgh East Tommy Sheppard.

Summarising the event in a piece for Behind Local News, SNS director John McLellan said: “Speaking up for small independent publishers, the proprietor of the Dumfries News group, Bill Laidlaw, told of the loss of classified advertising, of public notices and of political advertising which was making the job of covering the Annan community in the pages of the Annandale Observer increasingly difficult to sustain, even without further legislation.

“The conversations in the room were inevitably dominated by the implications of the Data Protection Bill amendments now going through the final Commons stages before enactment in May, which threaten to introduce punitive costs and damages for data protection breaches by news publishers.

“In a Scottish context this flies in the face of a basic principle of Scots Law, which does not permit punitive damages. Data protection is a UK-wide statute and so anything which compromises the independence of the Scottish legal jurisdiction is unlikely to be supported by the SNP.”

Publishers, journalists and campaigning groups have spoken out against proposals for a Leveson 2-style inquiry into data protection issues in the media, and punitive costs sanctions targetting newspaper publishers. 

Last month, the Data Protection Bill Committee narrowly voted to remove from the Bill the clauses relating to the Section 40-style costs sanctions and a major enquiry into data protection issues in the media, but the Labour Party immediately pledged to reintroduce them at a later stage in the Bill’s passage.  

In his submission to the Committee Patrick Daly, chairman of the Newspaper Conference, said conducting a Leveson 2-style inquiry into data protection issues in the media would be “to look for cobwebs while Rome burns in front of our eyes.”

In its submission, Foot Anstey LLP said the Section 40-style amendment would be “contrary to the public interest” and would “likely be extremely damaging both to the UK news industry, and to the ability of our fellow citizens to access national and local news and information.”

Global Witness said: “The threat of costs consequences, even in a legal case where the publisher is successful, would have a highly undesirable impact on non-profit and civil society organisations that adhere to extremely high standards in their investigations into corruption and inequality, but do not have the resources to risk the uncertain prospect of litigation.”

In a joint submission, Index on Censorship, English PEN, Reporters Without Borders warned: “Clauses 168 and 169 of the Data Protection Bill effectively reintroduce the now defunct section 40 via another route because they would force all those news organisations who choose not to join a state backed regulator to pay the costs of data protection actions, even if the claim is unjustified.

“Faced with the threat of crippling costs even if the courts found in their favour, news outlets might shy away from important public interest investigations.”