Minister issues final warning to councils who defy rules on competition with local newspapers - Press Gazette

Minister issues final warning to councils who defy rules on competition with local newspapers

Councils publishing newsletters and “freesheets” in abuse of government guidelines have been issued with a final warning to come to heel or be forced to comply.

Minister for communities and local government Marcus Jones said he had already written notices to three councils – Newham, Hackney and Waltham Forest – calling for them to fall in line.

All three publish newsletters on a fortnightly basis in violation of the government’s Publicity Code which states they should not be issued more often than once every quarter.

Newham Council produces the Newham Mag, Hackney Council writes Hackney Today and Waltham Forest Council owns the Waltham Forest News.

Jones said: “An independent free press is vital for local democracy and it’s important that we support them in holding local leaders to account.

“…Equally, councils shouldn’t undermine local democracy by publishing their own newsletters, more often than quarterly.

“I’m offering the small number that aren’t playing by the rules this last chance to put their publishing houses in order or I will use my powers to require them to do so”.

Earlier this week the founding editor of independent local newspaper Hackney Citizen urged his local council to stop cutting of the paper’s “lifeblood” be selling advertising in its own newsletter.

According to the government, the vast majority of councils comply with the Code in relation to the provision on frequency of publication.

Luton Borough Council became the latest council to fall in line after agreeing in July to publish Lutonline no more than four times a year.

In May, Tower Hamlets stopped its weekly publication East End Life, following the intervention of government-appointed commissioners, replacing it with quarterly magazine Our East End.

Jones repeated the government’s budgetary pledge to offer a £1,500 discount on business rates for local newspaper publishers, limited to one office.

He said the rate would help them as they “adapt to new technology and changing circumstances” and that it would make “a real difference to their overall running costs”.

Karen Bradley, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, added: “Local newspapers play a key role in our society.

“As we devolve more power away from Whitehall, it is more crucial than ever that we have a vibrant local press shining a spotlight on politicians and keeping people informed.

“These moves will be a real boost for independent local newspapers, allowing them to keep providing the vital journalism which is so important for their communities.”