Discussing defamation in The Bookseller

The Scottish Law Commission’s consultation on the law of defamation closes this week.  If you want take a stand for free speech in Scotland, then an easy but important thing you can do is co-sign the Libel Reform Campaign’s letter to Lord Pentland, the chair of the commission.

Last month I spoke to the Bookseller about defamation reform, after the incoming president of the Publishers’ Association, Simon Barr, said that it was important that it was important to close the “loophole” caused by the different defamation regimes in England & Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland.  Long-time readers of this blog will recall that while the Westminster parliament has legislated, the parliaments at Holyrood and Stormont have not yet done so.

There are many reasons to reform defamation, but to my mind the one that should motivate publishers in particular is this:

Another consequence is the possibility legal costs will dent budgets for breaking new authors. “If publishers are spending money on libel, they’re not spending on new stuff,” Sharp said. And the books that get binned, it won’t be the mainstream commercial titles, it’s going to be the experimental stuff – the first time authors, the challenging and the quirky things that are a bit of a risk.”

You can read Katherine Cowdrey’s full report on the Bookseller website.

Bloggers Plug the Democratic Deficit

I’m quoted in this Herald article about bloggers in Scotland.

Robert Sharp of English Pen, however, stressed that online sources and bloggers were now replacing newspapers in much of rural Scotland – putting themselves at risk.

He said: “The Highlands and Islands cannot depend on the established media to hold decision-makers to account.

“It is bloggers who plug the democratic gap, and they need a simple, clear law.

“If our rights are written in statute and not confusing case law, they would know where they stand and will be better equipped to scrutinise the people with money and power.”

Continue reading “Bloggers Plug the Democratic Deficit”

Urging #LibelReform in Scottish Legal News

Earlier this week I spoke to journalist Kapil Summan on behalf of English PEN and the Libel Reform Campaign, on the issue of reforming the UK defamation laws.

The Defamation Act 2013, you will recall, reformed the law in England & Wales.  But MSPs at Holyrood and MLAs at Stormont have yet to legislate for their jurisdictions.

I extemporised on why reform in required in both places! Kapil wrote up two versions of the interview, for Scottish Legal News and Irish Legal News

Key message:

The fact the Defamation Act seems to be working as Parliament intended is precisely what we were after so we’re going into this … with confidence that the Defamation Act is a very strong blueprint for reform in other jurisdictions.

Defending ‘Black Watch’ and free speech in the classroom

A headteacher in Kirriemuir has caused controversy by banner her pupils from studying Black Watch, the National Theatre of Scotland production that I worked on in 2006.  What with this history, couple with the free speech work I do for English PEN, this is perhaps the perfect issue for me to write on.  Over the weekend, The Sunday Herald published my essay setting the issue in its context.

Free speech controversies are like solar flares. They burn hot and bright. Right now, it is Angus that is feeling the heat. Last week, the Sunday Herald reported that one headteacher in Kirriemuir had pulled Black Watch off the Highers syllabus because it is “offensive”. Parents are angry at the decision, and have demanded an explanation. Continue reading “Defending ‘Black Watch’ and free speech in the classroom”

Scotland has an opportunity to create a model defamation law

Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh Castle

The Scottish Law Commission has said it will include a review of the defamation law in its ninth programme of reform.  That’s fantastic news for those of us in the Libel Reform Campaign who want to ensure that the space for free speech is just as wide in every corner of the United Kingdom.

David Leask at the Daily Herald reported the story and his article puts the review in context.  Yrstrly is actually quoted briefly in the piece, but I prefer this quote from my colleagues at Scottish PEN:

We’re not just campaigning on this to plug a loophole – we’re trying to put in place a structure that supports a healthier media landscape in Scotland.

Continue reading “Scotland has an opportunity to create a model defamation law”

Schrödinger’s Scotland

scott-monument

Today the people of Scotland voted on whether to become an independent country. The polls closed about an hour ago.

Don’t let the silence of this blog on the issue fool you into thinking I was not interested in the campaign. Far from it. I’ve been following the battle as closely as work and family life will allow. Despite exhibiting the Englishman phenotype, I have Scottish ancestry (coal-miners of Fife, poets of Edinburgh) and of course lived, worked and loved in Scotland for many years. It always felt, and still feels like my country.

So I’m a natural unionist, and the promotion of division, separation and the creation of a new barrier (however conceptual) makes me feel sad. That said, many of the arguments for independence are beguiling. There is something enticing about a political tabula rasa. Talk of building a nation is inherently constructive and delivers an endorphine shot.

I’ve picked probably the most useless time to post a blog on this issue. The polls have closed so I cannot persuade anyone. And yet none of the vote tallies have been reported so there is nothing to analyse. Its funny to think of all those marked ballot papers, piled and yet to be counted, and consider that the result already exists as a fact of the universe, even if no-one knows what it is yet. Schrödinger’s Scotland: is it independent or not? We have to open the box to find out.

The SNP's Weak Cultural Case for Independence

Following Ed Miliband’s speech on national identity on Thursday, we were given a good look at the SNP’s communications strategy for their Independence campaign.

Responding to Miliband’s speech in a BBC interview, Humza Yousaf MSP likened ‘Britishness’ to ‘Scandanavian’ and asserted that an independent Scotland would still be British, by virtue of pure geography.

Later in the day, Alex Neil MSP made the same point on BBC Question Time. This is obviously disingenuous.

Continue reading “The SNP's Weak Cultural Case for Independence”

British Commentators

British sports commentators are known for their idiosyncratic turn of phrase. Both radio and TV pundits have become celebrated for their ability to paste the metaphor on thickly.

Interestingly, this tradition looks like it is even being continued in the field of flash mobile text commentary. As I’ve said previously, Orange’s service seems to me to be a very good example of a new form of chatty micro-journalism, perfect for sporting occasions. This gem, seems to be very British in style. The analogies could be made nowhere else:

Murray is trudging along the baseline like Kevin the Teenager. And in the 60 seconds it’s taken me to write that, it’s 0-5.0-3: Man v Boy, Tiger v Gerbil, Man Utd v Torquay. All these match-ups are now comparable to what we’re seeing on Arthur Ashe court as Federer consolidates his break.

He also continues that very British tradition of wallowing in British sporting defeat. The old customs don’t die with the new technology.

Scotland's Hottest

Well well – Just as I take a step back from the running of 59 Productions, they find their way into one of those top 100 lists. We are now officially only 6 degrees less hot than JK Rowling:

The List’s Hot 100 – 2007’s hottest talent

59. Fifty Nine Productions
Fast-tracking their way to international success as audio-visual designers, Mark Grimmer and Leo Warner have worked with Suspect Culture, Grid Iron and, for the National Theatre Of Scotland, Black Watch. Following extensive work at the National Theatre, the Royal Ballet and New York’s Metropolitan Opera House, future projects include a new play at The Traverse and Salome at the Royal Opera House.

No mention of Robert Sharp, goddammit, which probably reflects my distinctly hands-off approach in recent months. One can only hope that the second-hand prestige shows up in some healthy dividend payments, one of these days.