Communities Secretary Takes Action on Council Publications

Communities Secretary Sajid Javid has issued directions to Hackney and Waltham Forest to stop publishing their newspapers so frequently, or risk court action.

Mr Javid has this week issued directions to the two councils – which are currently publishing their respective newspapers on a fortnightly basis – to stop publishing their newspapers so frequently, or risk court action.

After lobbying on the issue by the News Media Association, the Publicity Code was changed and strengthened by then Communities Secretary Eric Pickles to clamp down on councils using taxpayers’ funds to publish newspapers which compete with and damage independent local press.

The majority of councils now comply with the code but some councils such as Hackney and Waltham Forest and Wirral Council which publishes the monthly Wirral View complete with a rate card for advertisers on its website, have continued to flout the guidelines by publishing titles more frequently than quarterly.

Ensuring council newspapers are released no more than quarterly aims to protect local democracy by making sure the independent local press do not face unfair competition, the Communities Department said in a press release.

Communities Secretary Sajid Javid said: “An independent free press is vital for local democracy and it’s important that we support them in holding local leaders to account. Councils shouldn’t undermine local democracy by publishing their own newspapers more often than quarterly.

“While the majority of councils abide by the Publicity Code, Hackney and Waltham Forest have ignored repeated requests to stop publishing their council newspapers so frequently. In the interests of local democracy, I will therefore use my powers to require them to do so.”

Waltham Forest and Hackney have previously received written notices from the Communities Secretary indicating his intention to issue directions requiring them to comply with the Publicity Code around the frequency of publication of council newspapers.

Once a direction has been issued the council is required to take the necessary decision to comply within 14 days or could face court action.