Whilst London has been caught in a bubble of Leveson mania and PCC reform, far more fundamental changes to media regulation are being considered elsewhere. Philip Schlesinger, Professor in Cultural Policy and Academic Director of the Centre for Cultural Policy Research at the University of Glasgow, examines the debate about communications regulation in an independent Scotland.
In Scotland, questions are being posed regarding the future regulatory regime for media and communications. In February, the Scottish Government published a report titled Economic and Competition Regulation in an Independent Scotland and this warrants attention.
The NRA is seen as providing ‘an effective, efficient and easily navigated regulatory framework, which will bring significant benefits to Scotland’s economy, to businesses and consumers’. It is argued that an independent Scotland should ‘simplify the regulatory landscape’ by bringing together economic and competition regulation in the ‘vital sectors of energy, communications, transport, water’, although where needed the NRA would work closely with bodies in the rest of the UK (rUK) [p.1].
Further convergence in regulation is the name of the game for the UK’s new Competition and Markets Authority, cited as an example whose effectiveness the Scottish proposal will exceed by also bringing in sectoral regulators [p.15].
There is implied criticism of Ofcom’s performance in the telecommunications sector. This is described as focused ‘on the most cost effective deployment rather than maximizing access’. Postal delivery charges in the Scottish Highlands and Islands are described as ‘unreasonably high’ and as due to the ‘current absence of a UK regulatory approach’ [p.4].
The paper notes in respect of communications that ‘elements could be contracted to rUK’. It is left unclear what might be regulated in an independent Scotland apart from the economic dimensions of communications, although it is strongly hinted that media content and spectrum might be either Scottish governmental or regulatory fields [p.10].
The question of future media content regulation north of the border is also in question from another quarter. On 13 December 2012, the Scottish First Minister, Alex Salmond asked an expert panel chaired by former high court judge and solicitor general, Lord McCluskey, to consider the possible creation of a distinct Scottish press regulator, in the wake of Lord Leveson’s 2012 report into the culture, practice and ethics of the press.
The panel is due to report imminently. If it were created, a new self-regulatory Scottish Press Commission would operate under the devolution settlement and has no necessary connection with independence.
Both of these developments indicate that UK-wide media and communications regulation is coming under increasing question as the Scottish independence referendum of 2014 moves increasingly into view.
Philip Schlesinger is chairman of Ofcom’s Advisory Committee for Scotland. His original post appeared on the ‘Advice to Ofcom’ blog on 13 March 2013.