Meeting date: Tuesday, May 3, 2022
Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) 03 May 2022
Agenda: Time for Reflection, Topical Question Time, Fireworks and Pyrotechnic Articles (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1, Fireworks and Pyrotechnic Articles (Scotland) Bill: Financial Resolution, Decision Time, World Press Freedom Day 2022
- Time for Reflection
- Topical Question Time
- Fireworks and Pyrotechnic Articles (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1
- Fireworks and Pyrotechnic Articles (Scotland) Bill: Financial Resolution
- Decision Time
- World Press Freedom Day 2022
World Press Freedom Day 2022
The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S6M-04002, in the name of Russell Findlay, on world press freedom day. The debate will be concluded without any question being put. I ask members who wish to speak in the debate to press their request-to-speak button now or as soon as possible or to place an R in the chat function.
That the Parliament recognises that 3 May is World Press Freedom Day, as proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in 1993; considers this to be an important opportunity to celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom and to defend the world’s media from attacks on their independence; understands that this day is also one of remembrance of the 1,516 journalists who have been killed worldwide, with seven of those in Britain, according to the UNESCO observatory of killed journalists; believes that World Press Freedom Day serves as a reminder that, in countries around the world, newspapers and other media organisations are subject to censorship, with journalists harassed, unjustly imprisoned, attacked and murdered, and considers it to be a date to encourage support in favour of press freedom.17:06
It is a privilege to bring my first members’ debate to Parliament. There are few subjects—certainly not fireworks—that mean as much to me as journalism. I thank all members who supported the motion and I look forward to hearing today’s contributions.
I spent decades working as a newspaper hack. If you cut me, I bleed ink. I want to begin by looking back to April 1999, when this Parliament came into being. Mark Zuckerberg was just 14 years old, Facebook did not exist for another five years, with Twitter coming two years after that. Scotland’s newspaper industry was profitable, powerful and influential. Editors were big beasts on the civic landscape. The Daily Record sold 700,000 copies every single day and today it sells one tenth of that. Plunging sales and revenues lead to relentless and brutal cuts to budgets. Other proud, historic titles such as The Herald and The Scotsman have suffered similar dramatic decline.
The theme of this year’s world press freedom day is “Journalism under digital siege”. Following the era of death by a thousand newspaper cuts, most people now get their news on phones. The experience can be noisy, fractious and relentless. Fake news, confected outrage, cancel culture and angry echo-chamber opinions dominate. Social media fuels an ugly mob culture of ignorance and intolerance. Many abusers lurk in cowardly anonymity. Governments and tech billionaires such as Zuckerberg must do more to tackle disinformation and to champion the cherished rights of free expression.
The demise of newspapers has also triggered an exodus of experienced and often exhausted journalists. Many find refuge in public relations, peddling sanitised stories on behalf of their paymasters. I strongly suspect that Scotland’s myriad public bodies employ many times more former journalists than the entire Scottish press does. Local newspapers—the beating heart of our communities—are on life support.
Fewer journalists have time to do journalism, to forge relationships with people, build trust, chap doors, sit in courts, trawl archives. Diligent new journalists are chained to their desks and put under pressure to produce clickbait, while profits from online news largely remain a holy grail. Far too many wealthy people use expensive lawyers to bully newspapers into silent surrender.
Thank goodness, then, for people like Marion Scott, chief reporter of the Sunday Post newspaper. Marion was in Parliament last week with the family of Louise Aitchison, who was murdered in circumstances that raise serious questions about the authorities. Marion embodies the best of journalism. It is compassionate, fearless and gives voice to the marginalised. It challenges the powerful. The hard truths that she uncovers can be awkward and uncomfortable, which is just as it should be. Marion does not seek praise and will likely give me an absolute doing for embarrassing her—anyone who has ever met her will know I am not joking. However, her extraordinary track record of exposing rapists, paedophiles and child killers, of fighting gross injustice and of pursuing medical scandals, including the devastation of mesh surgery, has changed countless lives. Today it is being recognised in Holyrood but, frankly, it is worthy of Hollywood.
Christine Grahame, who we are due to hear from, has already issued me with a stern warning against any Scottish National Party bashing this afternoon. I gave her my word—I am not daft—but I will say that Scotland’s public authorities should accept that a vibrant and pluralistic newspaper industry is good for democracy and good for Scotland.
Despite my mournful take on the newspaper industry, we should be grateful to live in a society where the media is still free to be obtuse and to prod the powerful. Can you imagine the fate of a Russian journalist if they pursued Putin into the Kremlin canteen? Despotic regimes such as Russia and China crush, silence or kill their Marion Scotts. Their state propaganda knows no shame. The sheer scale and creativity of their lies is infinite and obscene. Any comparisons between the BBC and Putin’s media puppets only confirms the ignorance of those who attempt to make them.
I will conclude by paying tribute to journalists who have lost their lives while doing their jobs. One of those is Veronica Guerin, who was shot dead in 1996 for her work on exposing Irish drugs gangs. Last week, I had the privilege of talking with another Irish female journalist who is equally fearless: Nicola Tallant, who reports on society’s seedy underbelly and the malignant, far-reaching influence of organised crime. It is dangerous and dirty work that few have the stomach for. Last year, Dutch journalist Peter de Vries was murdered in Amsterdam by a drugs gang that has connections with Scottish organised criminals. Following his murder, his family told how he lived by the maxim, “On bended knee is no way to be free”.
Last month, around the time that I lodged this motion, UNESCO recorded that 1,516 journalists had been killed since 1993. That figure now stands at 1,519. Many are being murdered by Putin’s forces in Ukraine. While Putin unleashes industrial-scale terror on the people of Ukraine, he is also engaged in a war on media freedom and the truth. Those who bravely put themselves in danger while reporting from conflict zones, or indeed their own countries, are deserving of gratitude and respect.
We are truly blessed in this country to have a strong and independent media. Recognising that is the starting point. Protecting it is in all our interests.17:13
I thank Russell Findlay for bringing this important debate to the chamber today. As a fellow former journalist, this is a subject that is very close to my heart, too.
Freedom of the press is the foundation of any democracy. Speaking truth to power and exposing injustice would not be possible without that basic right for journalists working throughout the world. On world press freedom day, it is entirely right that we should pay tribute to the 1,516 journalists who have been killed in the line of duty working to bring truth to the public. Those men and women put themselves on the front line in the pursuit of truth and they paid with their lives. We must also remember, among many, Lyra McKee, a young journalist from Northern Ireland, cruelly shot and killed in 2019 during rioting in Derry. It was a senseless death, in her home town, of a remarkable young woman with a commitment to peace and a will to end the strife and tension in her troubled country.
The war in Ukraine is the starkest illustration of just how necessary media freedom is. At the end of last month, at least 14 journalists and media workers had been killed in the line of duty in Ukraine, and I fear that that figure will rise until that horrible conflict is over. With the gagging of the press in Russia, the people there are being hoodwinked and manipulated by a deranged despot who is exercising complete power over the media, and thousands of civilians are dying as a result. That is what happens when the media lose their freedom to tell the truth.
We are fortunate in the United Kingdom to have outstanding journalists covering the conflict. We watch them in their protective gear every night from the comfort of our homes, and I think that we all owe them a huge debt of gratitude for their bravery and commitment to the work they do. Of course, we have excellent journalists in Scotland who get to the heart of vital issues in the public interest, with outstanding investigative journalism on a huge range of issues—Mark Daly, Marion Scott, Shelley Jofre, Sam Poling, Alan Little, to name just a few. The Ferret is an award-winning investigative journalism platform for Scotland and beyond, and we have superb writers such as Joyce McMillan, Dani Garavelli and David Pratt, who is also a photo-journalist of outstanding ability. I could go on and on, but time will not allow.
My 25-year journalistic career was in newspapers, and I look back on that with huge fondness, while realising that I was fortunate to work at a time when newspaper circulation was high and good-quality journalism and editing was valued and rewarded with realistic salaries and good terms and conditions. I agree with everything that Russell Findlay said about this issue. I thought he articulated it very well and summed it up exactly as it is now, sadly. I only hope that the new generation of journalists are not corrupted by values that are held by certain so-called newspapers, such as the Daily Mail, which seems to believe that, in 2022, it is acceptable to produce misogynistic, offensive nonsense that demeans the profession and women. Freedom of the press should never mean the freedom to abuse and offend people in public life, such as Angela Rayner, or any other citizen, by any means at all.
In conclusion, I thank Russell Findlay again for bringing this debate to the chamber. Our hard-working and brave journalists should be proud of their profession and their commitment to bringing truth in the public interest. The world is a better place for their work, and freedom of the press should never be compromised in a civilised society.17:17
I am delighted to be contributing to today’s debate, which was secured by my colleague Russell Findlay. Journalism is the best antidote to disinformation. However, it is completely blocked, seriously impeded or restrained in 73 per cent of the countries evaluated. Despite a notable reduction in freedom of the media across the globe, when push comes to shove, we see the importance of the media, not just for democracy but for influencing our response to humanitarian crises.
I express my gratitude to the journalists out there on the front line in war-torn countries such as Ukraine and Afghanistan, who are putting their lives on the line to play an instrumental role in influencing the international community’s response to the plight of others, to the cause, to the hard facts and to the action on the ground. Without their bravery, we would be in the dark about the world around us. Recent wars in Syria and Iraq marked a key turning point in the safety of journalists, with some Governments now viewing journalists as a target that can be used to send a message to those who challenge the incumbents—at least 16 journalists have been killed since the beginning of this year. The situation has not been helped by the fact that the evolution of modern technology has seen the increasing use of malware and spyware against journalists.
Understandably, with many journalists now unwilling or unable to enter conflict zones, we are seeing a rise in the use of social media activists, citizen journalists and bloggers, but that, too, makes it easier for either side to control the narrative, so the reduction in foreign correspondents is increasingly problematic. A recent study by the International Committee of the Red Cross showed that immediate access to news on smart phones is significantly reducing audiences’ deep engagement with the conflicts, leading to reduced empathy for victims of war. The ICRC is advocating for the deeper engagement that is brought to us by the traditional press.
I am sure that all of us across the chamber are thankful to be living in the UK and to be unencumbered by conflict. It is welcome news that the UK’s score on the world press freedom index has improved notably from 33 in 2021 to 24 in 2022. However, there is still room for improvement.
In conclusion, press freedoms are essential for building public trust and ensuring that Governments do not abuse the powers that they hold, but it is also a vital mechanism in a healthy, functioning democracy. Although here in the United Kingdom we boast comparatively strong press freedom, still more can be done to improve accountability and ensure that the press is able to carry out the job of holding Government to account as effectively as possible.17:21
I congratulate the member on securing the debate and in particular congratulate him on heeding my words earlier today. I wish the whips had the same reaction when I speak to them.
I recognise, as narrated in the motion, the courage of journalists killed in the line of duty, without whose bravery and professionalism we would often be unaware of the evils in this world through war, poverty and oppression in all its forms. I add the courage of the support teams they may have—the drivers, the photographers, the camera men and women, often unseen and unrecognised. In particular there are those who defy oppressive control in their own countries and pay for it with their freedom and their lives. Are we in the public worthy of their sacrifices? I hope so.
Today with the demise of the printed press and with 24-hour rolling news, the internet and Twitter, are we at risk of news fatigue at the very least? Has it become devalued by its very relentless accessibility and how it is delivered? If so, we do not deserve those journalists out in the field, whether at home or abroad, who try to tell us it as it is. The paper press has its agenda particularly in home affairs, but that has always been the case. The Daily Mail stands up for Boris; the Daily Record does not. The Daily Telegraph is his mouthpiece; The National supports independence. We each source our domestic news on paper or online from where it reflects our own values.
Where can we source news that at best can be objective and perhaps challenge our values? I turn to public broadcasting such as the BBC and Channel 4. They are not perfect. In my view, the Beeb bows too often to the establishment, be it on news of royal events—where does it reflect republican views?—or during wartime, when it can become jingoistic. I recall reporting during the Falklands war that turned my stomach with its smatterings of propaganda. It too frequently reports an English domestic agenda with only a nod in its UK slot to the devolved Governments. However, all in all it does not too bad a job.
Channel 4 is my news channel of choice. I watch to contrast with the reporting on the BBC, but then I am a bit of a news addict. It is interesting to see the distinction, not only in the choice of lead story but in the commentary. In my view, it is edgier, although I confess that I also like Tom Bradby’s style as an occasional news presenter on ITV. His facial expressions and asides may cross the reporting line for some but not for me.
However, we politicians are not normal folk when it comes to following or trying to make and influence the news. The old line is still a truth about the relationship between a reporter and a politician being that of the dog to the lamp post, although which is the lamp post is out for debate. I exclude from that local press such as the Peeblesshire News, The Southern Reporter, the Border Telegraph, the Midlothian View and the Midlothian Advertiser, all in my patch and all at risk. They are pretty even-handed towards their political representatives locally, whoever they are.
However, is the press as we know it on its last legs? Advertising, which sustains both the local and national paper press, has shifted to the internet, where it is cheaper and has a much broader reach, but if we rely on an unregulated Twitter, we end up with a Trump. If we lose press independence, qualified though it may be, look east to Russia. Back to public broadcasting, then, and the need for Channel 4 at the very least to remain in public hands. The cost of losing that independence of reporting is at a cost to our democracy.17:25
I join colleagues in thanking Russell Findlay for lodging the motion, because it enables us to come and put on record the importance of journalism for us as a country.
Journalism must be both fierce and fearless. If done right, it unveils the truth about our world and our place in it, truth that may be uncomfortable for some and inconvenient for others but truth all the same. Good journalism challenges the status quo, can become a voice of the voiceless and a force for change but, as colleagues across the chamber have said, press freedom is a core part of who we are as a democracy and in recent years we have seen what happens when that is undermined.
Six years ago, an unprecedented leak of 11.5 million files from the database of the world’s fourth biggest offshore law firm shed light on the Panama papers. Was it a surprise to learn that the rich and powerful transfer their wealth to offshore companies to avoid paying taxes? Hardly, but the facts were revealed and the evidence was there. In relation to oligarchs, in 2016 we first heard about a scheme in which money from Russian state banks was heading offshore, and it is almost unnerving to see how long it has taken for action to acknowledge and address the issue of money flowing with no transparency or accountability.
Two years after that revelation, we learned about a firm harvesting 50 million Facebook profiles of US voters, using them for targeted political adverts and its connection to the vote leave campaign, including the operation in the run-up to the Brexit referendum. We have known about those difficulties and this week we have seen the private decision from the US Supreme Court on abortion rights highlighted.
Closer to home, as has been mentioned, we have The Ferret, a media platform that has adopted a co-operative, crowd-funded model of operations, exposing that nearly a third of Scotland’s biggest wind farms have links to offshore tax havens and revealed the truth about newspaper ownership in Scotland, which is that 10 of our major national newspapers are owned by three billionaires.
Truth can be uncomfortable, and Russell Findlay is right to point out the impact of social media on our press, already under pressure from declining income and dramatically impacted by the pandemic. Local newspapers, which are, as Christine Grahame said, a pillar of our communities, are more and more threatened with closure; 33 local newspapers closed in one year, 2019-20, and, although more print titles were launched, we have seen a loss. Since 2005, we have lost 265 local newspapers.
As others have talked about, during our public health crisis and the war in Europe, impartial information is needed more than ever. It is vital to our democracy. That is why, as others have said, we need to keep the BBC and Channel 4 public and properly funded. Channel 4’s remit is to deliver content to underserviced and excluded audiences. It also invests £10 billion in the UK production industry and creates thousands of jobs. That is why many of us believe that Channel 4’s journalism must remain publicly owned and be a voice for those who are underrepresented in today’s media landscape.
As today’s motion reminds all of us, independent journalism is not guaranteed. If we look abroad, Russian President Putin signed a law that criminalises factual news reporting, with many independent journalists being forced to flee the country or, worse, being detained, arrested, fined or imprisoned. Earlier this year, a Turkish journalist was sentenced to more than two years in prison for insulting the President. Wan Yiu-sing, an independent radio host and commentator who covers political issues in mainland China and Hong Kong, has been detained since February 2021. The list goes on and on but, as others have said, in Ukraine today journalists are demonstrating bravery every day that they send us their reports.
As the motion states, journalists are being threatened, prosecuted, imprisoned or even killed for simply seeking the truth. That is not acceptable and until it is no longer the case, it is vital that we mark world press freedom day and thank journalists across the world and in Scotland for their vital work.17:30
I congratulate Russell Findlay on bringing his first members’ business debate to the chamber of the Scottish Parliament on world press freedom day.
World press freedom day on 3 May acts as a reminder to Governments of the need to respect their commitment to press freedom and is also a day of reflection among media professionals about issues of press freedom and professional ethics. Just as importantly, world press freedom day is a day of support for media that are targets for the restraint or abolition of press freedom.
It is also a day of remembrance for those journalists who have lost their lives in the pursuit of a story. April saw the fourth anniversary of the death of Palestinian journalist Ahmed Abu Hussein, who was fatally wounded by an Israeli sniper’s bullet as he covered one of the great march of return protests near the Israeli border in the Gaza strip. Reporters Without Borders announced in April that it had registered more than 140 Israeli violations against Palestinian journalists since those weekly protests began in March 2018. Mr Hussein died in hospital on 25 April 2018 from the gunshot injury that he sustained while covering the protest on 13 April. Another Palestinian journalist, Yasser Mortaja, was killed on the spot by an Israeli military sniper’s bullet while covering the protest on 6 April 2018.
According to a tally of Reporters Without Borders, at least 144 Palestinian journalists have been at the receiving end of live rounds, rubber bullets, stun grenades or tear gas fired by Israeli soldiers or police—or their baton blows—in the Gaza strip, the West Bank and East Jerusalem during the past four years of great march of return protests. Israel is ranked 86th out of 180 countries in the world press freedom index, while Palestine is ranked 132nd.
I have spoken before about PEN International’s day of the imprisoned writer, so I will take some time to talk about its call to action on this press freedom day. Ismail al-Iskandrani is an award-winning writer, investigative journalist and sociopolitical researcher who is best known for his research and writings on militant groups operating in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula. He was arrested on 29 November 2015 at the airport on his return from Berlin in Germany. The authorities seized his laptop, mobile phone and personal belongings, and later presented them as evidence against him. He was held in arbitrary pre-trial detention for over two years before being referred to a military court under the pretext of revealing military secrets.
In May 2018, al-Iskandrani was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment for “leaking military secrets” and “membership of a terrorist group”. On 24 December 2018, an Egyptian military court upheld the 10-year prison sentence against him. He is currently held in Mazraa prison in the Tora prison complex, where he is reportedly denied access to in-person visits with his family, as well as access to reading and writing materials. PEN believes that al-Iskandrani’s detention and conviction are linked to his work, which challenges the Government’s narrative on its counterterrorism operations. I will be joining its call to action and writing to the Egyptian authorities, and colleagues may wish to join me.
Freedom of expression is a fundamental right and, of course, the need to fight for fundamental rights is not new. It has always been important to protect people around the world from the threat of violence or state suppression but, as with so many things over the past few years, now, with on-going conflicts in Ukraine, Yemen, Afghanistan, in the shadows of a global pandemic and operating in a digital era that brings as many challenges as it does opportunities, that need feels even sharper.
I want to conclude by recognising the contribution that journalists all over the world make to the crucial foundations of democracy and dialogue. Press freedom and freedom of expression support the protection and promotion of all other human rights. It is in all our interests to ensure that both here and around the world journalists can do their work freely and safely.17:34
I thank my good friend Russell Findlay for securing today’s important debate. I put on record my thanks to him for all the work that he has done to help someone I know personally. Jess Insall had her drink spiked while on a night out a few weeks ago and had a traumatic experience, and I know that Russell has been an enormous support to her and was also the means by which her story has become better known through the pages of the Sunday Mail.
I pay tribute to Russell Findlay as one of the most courageous people I know. He is the living embodiment of the values and virtues of sound journalism. I know that he will be slightly embarrassed by what I have just said because I am his chief whip, but that is genuinely how I feel about him.
Before I continue with my speech, I declare an interest as a trustee of the Freedom Declared Foundation, a charity that aims to defend and champion freedom of religion or belief in the United Kingdom.
Our freedoms, as laid out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the European convention on human rights, are collective. We cannot pick and choose which freedoms we want to defend, nor can we prioritise certain freedoms over others. We must defend them collectively. Often, when one freedom is infringed, so are many others. That is particularly the case when it comes to the infringement of freedom of religion or belief, which is often associated with the infringement of freedom of speech, freedom to protest and freedom of the press. It is that relationship between freedom of religion or belief and a free press that I wish to explore briefly in my speech today.
The Chinese Communist Party is cracking down on press freedom throughout China, particularly in Hong Kong. It is doing that to cover up, among other things, its increasing levels of religious persecution. Last year, the Chinese Communist Party strengthened its censorship laws, particularly over religious publications, with only those permitted by the state allowed to be distributed. According to ChinaAid, a Christian non-governmental organisation that focuses on freedom of religion or belief in China, that has resulted in words such as “Jesus” and “Christ” being removed from texts before distribution. Sadly, the crackdown on religious publications is not surprising, given the reports of the destruction of churches and crosses in China.
The Chinese Communist Party is not just cracking down on Christianity and the Christian press. Reports show that it has destroyed mosques, and an independent tribunal concluded that the Chinese Communist Party is committing genocide against the Uyghur population. Reports from brave journalists have shown how the Chinese Communist Party is determined to cover up that genocide. It regularly burns documents and destroys evidence, and then has the nerve to take international journalists on perverse “nothing to see here” guided tours.
The Chinese Community Party is not the only Government in the world that censors the free press to try to suppress freedom of religion or belief. Violating countries include North Korea, Myanmar and Russia, among others. We have spoken quite a bit about Russia in the chamber. Ironically, I am one of the 250-odd politicians in Britain who were sanctioned by the Kremlin last week for the reason of stirring up Russophobia. I am not guilty of stirring up Russophobia, but I am definitely guilty of prodding a sharp stick in the direction of Putin and his gang, which he calls a regime or Government.
We are very fortunate to live in a country where freedoms such as freedom of the press are defended, but sometimes I feel that we take our freedoms too much for granted. We cannot afford to be complacent. All of us in the chamber, regardless of political party, must continuously defend and champion our freedoms, including freedom of the press. We must ensure that those freedoms are upheld in our law and that their benefits are felt at a societal level. Our collective vision should be that the United Kingdom is seen as the global standard on how to implement and safeguard those fundamental freedoms. We should and must work together to ensure that that vision becomes a reality.17:39
I am delighted to have the opportunity to close this debate on the pertinent issue of press freedom and to join members in celebrating world press freedom day. I begin by thanking in particular Russell Findlay for lodging this important motion. As the many strong contributions that we have heard today emphasise, this is a critical discussion, and we must take the time to acknowledge the crucial work of journalists at home and abroad in providing us with high-quality news and information.
I have a clear interest in press freedom as the cabinet secretary for culture with portfolio responsibility for media policy in Scotland. In addition, like Russell Findlay, I am a former journalist, so the subject matter is close to my heart. I am incredibly proud of my decade as a broadcast foreign affairs correspondent, which included reporting from the former Yugoslavia during the civil war there. That taught me how important it is to report facts and for the public to be able to learn the truth.
I whole-heartedly acknowledge the important role that a free, independent and strong press plays in upholding a democratic society. It is important that we heard excellent contributions from all corners of the chamber—from all the main political parties. Rona Mackay, Pam Gosal, Christine Grahame, Sarah Boyack, Ruth Maguire and Stephen Kerr all had important things to put on the record. I associate myself entirely with the points that were made about the importance of Channel 4 remaining in the public sector.
On world press freedom day, I want to take a moment to recognise the importance of article 10 of the Human Rights Act 1998 embedding in law our right to freedom of expression. That right belongs to all of us, but today I highlight its particular relevance to journalists and news publishers. Our press must be able to be independent so that journalists have the freedom to criticise Governments and hold elected representatives to account.
A free and independent press is also an essential guarantor of human rights. Without press freedom, it is not only our right to free speech that is put at risk. Journalists play a critically important role in challenging and exposing human rights abuses of all kinds. That is true at a global level, and it is one of the reasons why repressive regimes around the world go to such lengths to intimidate and silence the press. As we know, that is one of the reasons why investigative journalists who challenge the official narrative—and we have heard about a number of them today—are so regularly exposed to threats and violence. Indeed, far too many have paid the ultimate price for speaking out. Today, we remember those journalists.
I take this opportunity to condemn, in particular, the actions of the authorities of the Russian Federation in closing down the few remaining independent media outlets that dared to challenge the lies and delusions of the Putin dictatorship. I also recognise the bravery of those who continue to expose the truth about Putin’s illegal war of aggression in Ukraine. Sadly, it is necessary also to pay tribute to the growing number of journalists who have been killed or abducted by Russian forces in Ukraine. Nor should we forget the repression of the Lukashenko dictatorship in neighbouring Belarus, and its long record of intimidating and jailing journalists and civil society activists. In fact, Belarus is one of the five worst states in the world for jailing and intimidating journalists, according to figures compiled by the Committee to Protect Journalists.
Of course, the vital role played by journalists in exposing injustice and upholding human rights is not confined to action that confronts repressive regimes such as those in Russia. It is an essential feature of every healthy, successful democracy. One need only think of the award-winning investigative journalism of Amelia Gentleman in exposing the Windrush scandal—one of the most shameful examples of human rights being disregarded and violated by the UK Government. Such journalism serves a very clear public interest purpose.
For Scotland to prosper, we must respect and genuinely value the diversity of Scottish society. We must commit to sharing and debating our different views and opinions in a spirit of openness and mutual respect, and dedication to shared values and pursuit of the common good. A strong and sustainable public interest journalism sector is essential for preserving media plurality. That is why my predecessor Fiona Hyslop established the short-life public interest journalism working group to consider ways to ensure the on-going resilience and relevance of the sector. I am carefully considering the working group’s recommendations and will respond to them shortly. The work of the working group is essential in ensuring that journalism in Scotland remains transparent and strong as a key element of Scottish democracy.
Today, I join others in celebrating the work of journalists in Scotland and around the world in keeping us informed about current affairs. It is only because of journalists reporting cutting-edge stories, from local news to global events, that we can stay up to date with fast-moving situations and develop informed opinions based on facts.
In closing the debate, I will take a moment to express thanks to all those who work in the press industry in Scotland. It is essential that the news media strive to reflect the plurality of views and opinion in the country as a whole, and I am pleased that we continue to have a vibrant news publishing sector in Scotland. I am committed to helping ensure its longevity, independence and freedom.
Thank you very much indeed, cabinet secretary. That concludes the debate, and I close this meeting of Parliament.Meeting closed at 17:45.
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