DCLG Acts Over Greenwich Council Newspaper
The Communities Department has served a direction upon Greenwich Council requiring the local authority to cease publishing its weekly newspaper Greenwich Time by the end of the month.
In a statement to Parliament this week, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State Kris Hopkins said the Government was “seeking to take action” against local authorities publishing newspapers which could “push out and undermine that independent press.”
Mr Hopkins said Communities Secretary Eric Pickles had considered representations from the council as well as responses to a Government consultation on the issue in 2013 concluding that it would be “lawful and appropriate” to issue a direction.
As well as requiring the council to cease publication of weekly Greenwich Time by 31 March, the direction also bans the council from outsourcing production of “any weekly newsletter, newssheet or similar communication by a third party.”
Mr Hopkins said: “On 29 January 2015 I explained to the House (Official Report, Column 28WS) the coalition government’s commitment to protecting an independent free local press, and how the government was seeking to take action on the practice by a small number of local authorities to publish local authority newspapers, which given their frequency of publication, can push out and undermine that independent press.
“I also explained that each case would be considered on its merits, and that on this basis the Secretary of State had given the Royal Borough of Greenwich notice of a direction that he proposed to give requiring that council to comply with the provisions in the March 2011 Code of recommended practice on local authority publicity which restrict the frequency of publication of the council’s newspaper.
“Within the period of 14 days following the notice, as statute provides, Greenwich council has made a number of representations. These included that in the council’s view there is no evidence that its weekly newspaper has an impact on the local independent press in the area, that the proposed direction would be ultra vires, irrational, and procedurally unfair, and that in any event the council would not be able to comply with such a direction by the proposed date of 31 March 2015.
“I can now tell the House that the Secretary of State has carefully considered these representations, together with other information available about the council’s publicity, the responses received to the government’s 2013 consultation Protecting the independent press from unfair competition, and the government’s response to that consultation.
“He has also had careful regard to the department’s equality statement on enforcing the code of recommended practice on local authority publicity, and has considered afresh earlier representations that the council had made about proposals to direct its compliance with the code to restrict the frequency of publication of its newspaper.
“The Secretary of State has concluded that it would be lawful and appropriate in all the circumstances of Greenwich for him now to issue the direction as he had proposed.”