Southern hailed at Holyrood

AS the debate over regulation of the press continues in the wake of the Leveson report, an MSP has jumped to the defence of local newspapers and the print industry at large, writes Bob Burgess.

Scot Nat Christine Grahame was speaking during a debate instigated by her at the Scottish Parliament.

And in making a plea to distinguish between the wrong doings of some of the national media and the rest of the newspaper industry, she cites the work of newspapers such as The Southern Reporter.

She told fellow MSPs: “The last thing that print media companies need, be they large or small, is heavy-handed statutory regulation. Here, I make the necessary distinction between statutory regulation and a statutory body such as the ombudsman in Ireland...Certainly, given the misgivings of some editors and proprietors, the Press Complaints Commission is well past its sell-by date, but the wrongs, which in some cases undoubtedly amount to criminal activity, must not blight the print media at large, which reports with integrity.”

And she told Holyrood: “I unashamedly quote from one of my local papers, The Southern Reporter, which got in touch with me about this debate. It states: ‘Our readers trust us and look to us not only to report on the great things happening in our region, but also to challenge those things that are wrong or where standards fall below what we should expect. No reporter from The Southern Reporter has ever hacked a mobile phone, nor have we paid the police – or anyone else – for a story’.”

Ms Grahame went on: “That is true of the vast majority of our print media. Whatever the remedy, we must defend – most of all, the political establishment must defend – robust reporting, because we all need media that are strong, combative, professional and testing of our politicians. The fourth estate, national and regional, did not earn its soubriquet without merit.”

And she told the chamber she wanted to see the establishment of a Scottish media panel, comprised of respected, experienced journalistic professionals to advise – and she stressed advise – on all matters pertaining to the media, both electronic and print.

Ms Grahame stressed: “The print media is devolved, so the Leveson report could be the first issue on the agenda of that advisory panel, because the last thing that we need is an off-someone-else’s-shelf, knee-jerk solution.”

She said that such a media panel would show that journalists and not just politicians, were seeking a solution.

Ms Grahame said the media panel should involve radio, community radio and television, as well as print journalism.

Earlier in the debate the MSP took a swipe the BBC. She complained that in News at Ten, the Scottish section was reduced to five minutes and Newsnight was often badly pruned to fit in with what she described as London-centric priorities.

But she maintained that it was not all about timings, adding: “Content is frequently skewed to the south-east of England, and a snowfall of a few inches on the London streets can displace international headlines.”

She also placed the 24-hour BBC News channel in the dock for churning out news items of a domestic nature without regard to the devolved parliaments.