Journalists charged to cover Glasgow election count

The Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre may be breaching European law by charging journalists covering the general election count £50 to plug in their laptops.

Journalists covering general election counts at The Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre next month will be charged £50 for access to electricity, internet and desk space.

A letter, from John Sharkey, SECC group chief executive, dated 23 March 2010, explained how a standard media package which now costs £50 comprises a table, two chairs, a double socket and high speed wireless connection.

The letter read: "I am sure you will agree that this represents excellent value for the whole evening."

Grace Franklin, editor of free newspaper Local News Glasgow, says any fee is a barrier for her paper.

She said: "There must be a simple way to report democracy freely. It is hard to take for local papers who are being made to pay for reporting news."

Brian Pillans, lecturer in media law at Glasgow Caledonian University, said that the charge on journalists is in breach of European law.

He said: "The media play a vital role in democracy – being the eyes and ears of the electorate when it comes to reporting a count.

"Here a fee has been imposed either directly or indirectly (through the SECC) by Glasgow City Council.

"To impose such a fee it must be within the council's powers. The Human Rights Act 1998 states that public bodies do not have the power to act incompatibly with the European Convention on Human Rights; and crucially Article 10 of the Convention provides a guarantee of freedom of expression.

"Since these charges act as a hindrance to the reporting of the democratic process this is a restriction on freedom of expression.

"Glasgow City Council requires to justify the restriction in the sense that it pursues a legitimate aim and is proportionate and necessary in a democratic society.

"I doubt if the local authority can justify this where it has not charged in the past; therefore the imposition of charges would be ultra vires (beyond the powers of) Glasgow City Council or the SECC and void."

Paul Holleran, NUJ Organiser in Scotland, said: "Politicians complain that the press in this country do not cover political stories on the scale they want, but if these types of charges are implemented they can rest assured there will be even less coverage of elections and conferences in future."

A spokesman for Glasgow City Council said: "The council is not imposing any charges on the media for covering the election count.

"Although we are providing tables and chairs, the council cannot justify the cost of paying for power or internet access for the media or other commercial organisations.

"Anyone requiring these facilities would have to liaise directly with the SECC."

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