End of life for Tower Hamlets’ East End Life ‘Pravda propaganda’ paper

Front pager of East End Life's last edition

Front pager of East End Life's last edition - Credit: Archant

The controversial council weekly “Pravda propaganda” newspaper East End Life—funded out of council taxes for the past 23 years—has finally ceased printing in east London after government pressure.

Tower Hamlets Council

Tower Hamlets Council - Credit: Archant

Monday’s edition was the last off the presses, distributed free to up to 90,000 households.

It has been costing Tower Hamlets council taxpayers in one of Britain’s poorest areas at least £1.5m a year and had to go because it was being published illegally, council members were told last night.

Government Communities Secretary Greg Clark welcomed the “common sense” decision to stop publishing.

“It was an unnecessary use of taxpayers’ money and undermined the much-needed independent local press,” he told the East London Advertiser.

Communities Sercretary Greg Clark

Communities Sercretary Greg Clark - Credit: Communities Dept

“Council newspapers have a role informing communities about services—but not at the expense of the health of our local democracy.”

Critics in Parliament called it blatant “Pravda propaganda” dishing out bias news reports about the council, all subsidised out of public coffers.

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“Tower Hamlets has made a common sense decision to comply with the Publicity Code,” the Secretary of State added. “We have strong rules to protect the press, but if local authorities aren’t playing by those rules then we won’t be afraid to step in.”

The paper was slammed as unfair competition as it jostled for outside advertising revenue without having to pay any commercial rates, rents or untilities like its unsubsidised rivals.

Tower Hamlets Mayor John Biggs

Tower Hamlets Mayor John Biggs - Credit: Archant

So new mayor John Biggs, who pledged in his election campaign last year to close down the paper, finally pulled the plug on Monday after pressure from Whitehall.

The Town Hall’s Tory opposition group leader Peter Golds told last night’s annual council meeting: “This paper had to go because it was being published illegally.

“Local authorities have no right to be in commercial publishing.”

The council has been in “special measures” under Whitehall since the government sent in auditors 18 months ago to go through the books of the previous Lutfur Rahman administration, following widespread allegations of financial malpractice and grants being handed out to often-unknown organisations.

Mayor Biggs said last night he wanted the auditors out of the Town Hall, but the council had to get its finances right—getting rid of the costly East End Life was part of that process.

The authority now complies with the government’s Publicity Code aimed at preventing tax-subsidised competition against local newspapers and ensuring town halls are cost effective and objective in any publicity they put out.