Scotland's news media industry has united to back The Herald's campaign for libel reform.

The National Union of Journalists and the Scottish Newspaper Society, which represent staff and employers respectively, have both endorsed calls for new and more liberal defamation laws.

Concerns have been growing among Scottish journalists and writers about the "chilling effect" of current legislation.

Reporters say they are unable to tell stories they know to be true because they could be sued by powerful interests.

Background: Why The Herald is campaigning for defamation reform


The Herald:

This is despite reforms in England and Wales in 2013 that introduced a "serious harm test" to stop frivolous or unfair challenges to freedom of expression.

Dominic Bascombe, NUJ Assistant Organiser Scotland said: "The NUJ supported the Defamation Bill agreed by Westminster in because it provides better protections for journalists, a stronger public interest defence and increased protection for website operators."The union welcomes the campaign for libel reform in Scotland."

The Scottish Law Commission, the statutory body which advises the government on legislation, has already launched an investigation in to potential reforms of libel, which is called defamation north of the border.

The Scottish Government had decided not to pursue reform when England did so. There had been a particularly serious problem in London, where "libel tourism" had seen, for example, Russian oligarchs sue each other for alleged slights that had little to do with the British capital.

John McLellan, the director of the Scottish Newspaper Society, said: "We are delighted that the reform of defamation law in Scotland is underway and in particular we welcome the opportunity to take the massive technological developments of the last 20 years into account.

"England and Wales's 2013 Defamation Act contained some important measures to recognise the realities of mass communication in the digital age, in particular repeat publication and the moderation of online commentaries, and we hope that it can be built on.

"It's not just a question of copying the 2013 Act and it actually provides the opportunity for a thorough review of that legislation which might bring help develop libel law across the whole of the UK."

Mr McLellan remarks reflect particular concerns over the vulnerability of new media publishers and social media users to a defamation action in Scotland.

News sites such as The Ferret and Common Space have already supported the campaign.

The Herald:

There are also fears that social media providers, such as Twitter and Tripadvisor, do not enjoy the same protections from defamation actions in Scotland as they do in England or Wales.

The Herald's Freedom of Speech campaign was launched last year with the support of Scottish PEN, the Freedom of Expression organisation that represents many writers.

The Herald: Author Val McDermid photographed at the Book Festival in Edinburgh

Campaign supporters include novelists James Kelman, Ian Rankin and Christopher Brookmyre and Val McDermid, pictured above.

Drew Campbell, president of Scottish PEN, welcomed the support of both the NUJ and SNS.

He said: "Scottish PEN are glad to see the organisations join this important campaign.

"Both organisations are doing tremendous work, and we look forward to working alongside them to push for reformed defamation legislation in Scotland."