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23 July 2020

NMA: Scottish Hate Crime Bill Poses Risk To Freedom Of Expression

Scottish legislation designed to to crack down on hate crime poses a grave threat to freedom of expression and could chill robust debate and reporting in the public interest, the News Media Assocation has warned today.

In a letter to the Justice Committee in the Scottish Parliament, the NMA said it supported the Scottish Newspaper Society’s response to the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill consultation.

The SNS said that, in its current form, the legislation contains “dangerous measures” which would pose “considerable risks to freedom of expression” and called for robust exemptions for journalism to be introduced to the Bill.  

Plans to introduce a new offence of stirring up of hatred, without a requirement to prove that hatred was stirred up, just the potential to do so, would create potential for vexatious complaints and commentators in news publications would be “primary targets,” the SNS said.   

Even if there was a remote possibility of a successful conviction, it would present a greatly increased opportunity to instigate “worrying, time-consuming and costly” investigations against news publishers, individual staff members and contributors.

The SNS called on the Justice Committee to introduce absolute exemptions for journalism to prevent news publishers and broadcasters from becoming subject to this “wholly unnecessary threat.”

“Publishing robust opinion and comment is an essential part of open accountability, as is public testing of actions carried out by organisations of all shapes, sizes and ownerships, but by its very nature it can be subject to legal attack and this legislation creates another, potentially more potent, weapon.

“We strongly believe this bill represents such a considerable threat to freedom of the Press that if it does make it into statute it must only be with absolute exemptions to prevent expensive, damaging and dangerous investigations before they start,” the SNS said.