Nine New Councils Targeted in Government Council Papers Clampdown  

The Communities Department is to target nine new local authorities as part of its clampdown on aggressive council newspapers.  

Local authorities Enfield, Hackney, Hillingdon, Lambeth, Luton, Medway, Newham, North Somerset and Waltham Forest have been served written notices by the government because they are still publishing fortnightly or monthly freesheets, The Times reported this week.

Flagship council papers East End Life and Greenwich Time will move to a quarterly frequency as part of the Government’s drive to eradicate council publications which damage independent local press by competing unfairly for audiences and advertisers.

The News Media Association’s’ deputy chief executive Lynne Anderson is quoted in the article saying that the NMA has long campaigned against council papers and said that it was good to see action finally being taken to stop them.

In a leader entitled ‘Tax-funded Propaganda‘, The Times said: “Was it ever right for local councils to spend taxpayers’ money publishing free newspapers? To council insiders not too worried about costs or ethics, they were an effective way to publicise their work without the bother of dissenting voices. To editors of local papers and council tax payers who took the time to read these free sheets, they were blatant propaganda. Their publication was — and is — an appalling waste of public money. It is also illegal.

“It has taken six years of struggle to rein in these pseudo-papers. The fight was started by Eric Pickles when he was communities secretary in the early years of the coalition government and is finally bearing fruit. The last two council weeklies are to close this year.

“Mr Pickles called these papers town hall Pravdas. So did the Newspaper Society. Anyone inclined to accuse them of hyperbole should consider East End Life, published by the London borough of Tower Hamlets at an annual cost of £1.5 million. A single issue in 2012 carries six articles about the then mayor, Lutfur Rahman, and more than 1,000 words of his opinions. Mr Rahman was later convicted of electoral fraud.

“Not all council propaganda is so egregious, but it undercuts independent newspapers which scrutinise local government. They lose cover price sales and advertising, their lifeblood. Put bluntly, without local papers there would be no impartial news organisations to hold councils to account.

“Nine councils, including four London Labour strongholds, are still publishing fortnightly or monthly titles. The law lets them publish four times a year at most. They are calculating accurately and cynically that the government does not want the expense of taking them to court. It is time it made an example of them in the interests of democracy and free speech.”