Scottish PEN condemns the action brought against Andy Wightman MSP and calls for reform to adequately protect free expression & public interest reporting.February 27, 2017
Scottish PEN condemns the action brought against Andy Wightman MSP and calls for reform to adequately protect free expression & public interest reporting.
Free expression in Scotland is done a dangerous disservice by the out-dated and inadequate defamation laws that are currently in place. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the claim made against Scottish PEN member and Scottish Green Party MSP, Andy Wightman for his public interest reporting made as an independent advocate for land reform in Scotland.
While many facts remain unpublished due to the severity of the threat against Mr Wightman, what is known demonstrates the need for a more robust public interest defence that can ensure issues of importance for communities across Scotland cannot be stifled by entities trying to avoid public scrutiny. Public interest protections as they currently stand are far too narrow to defend the multitude of individuals and organisations who can inform the public of key issues including journalists, campaigners, scientists, bloggers and community activists.
This narrowness breeds uncertainty and any defence which is uncertain will chill public interest discussions as many publishers would rather settle claims out of court or avoid publication than face the legal uncertainty of mounting a complex and unpredictable defence. While defamation laws are vital to protect the reputation and private lives of people from all backgrounds, this cannot come at the expense of free expression and the ability to inform the public and hold the powerful to account.
As the Internet continues to redefine how we communicate and source information, it is imperative that the laws that protect us accurately reflect our times and robustly defend our fundamental freedoms in the digital age. Without reform, without laws that protect both the right to privacy and the right to free expression, we can never be certain that the stories that require public involvement and engagement can be shared free from the threat of legal action.
This case facing Andy Wightman MSP is yet another reminder that Scotland, with its rich history of free expression and activism, deserves more than our existing laws, and we call for reform that brings defamation laws into the 21st century.