The director of an organisation that seeks to protect press freedom has criticised the Scottish Government over its controversial hate crime legislation.
John McLellan, Director of the Scottish Newspaper Society and former editor of The Scotsman, called the Bill “a golden opportunity for political activists to use its terms to close down opponents”.
The Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill seeks to extend the law on ‘hate crime’ against particular characteristics, including religion, sexual orientation and transgender identity.
Writing in The Scotsman, McLellan said that “the very process of proving there has been no wrong-doing or justifying what has been written or said is in itself an infringement of freedom of expression”.
The Director warned that, despite some “freedom of expression caveats in the bill, it is not difficult to see political activists making formal complaints against writers”.
McLellan said that hundreds of complaints against columnists are dismissed every year by the press regulator, as it seeks to protect freedom of expression, but the Bill places such decisions into the hands of the police.
He added that politicians could also weaponise the Bill against each other.
The proposals have met with fierce criticism since being announced, with politicians and organisations concerned about the implications for free speech.
Last month, the Executive Director of the Society of Editors said the legislation appears to be “designed to silence debate” and gives pressure groups the potential to “stifle or close down debate on important issues”.
Ian Murray warned that, even though the Bill is only intended to affect Scotland, “any media organisation that publishes or broadcasts north of the border could find themselves caught up or at the very least there will be a chill placed on their work.”
Former deputy leader of the SNP Jim Sillars also accused Holyrood of “virtue signalling” and “punishing any who assert biological fact”.