Newspaper Society slams “damaging” council newspapers

The Newspaper Society has joined calls for communities secretary Eric Pickles to clamp down on council-run newspapers such as Tower Hamlets’ East End Life.

In an open letter to Mr Pickles, the Society urged him to act on his recent promise to introduce statutory measures preventing councils publishing what he recently described as “town hall Pravdas”, and requested a meeting with him to discuss the issue.

They criticised those councils, including Tower Hamlets, which have failed to comply with the Code of Recommended Practice on Local Authority Publications. The Code, revised in Febrary 2011, stipulates that councils should not issue news-based publications more than four times per year, but East End Life continues to be published on a weekly basis.

The Newspaper Society’s communications director, Lynne Anderson, wrote: “Council newspapers and increasingly their websites compete with independent local newspapers for private and public sector advertising, the lifeblood of independent local newspapers in their areas.

“Local authorities are siphoning off the primary source of revenue which enables independent local journalism to hold authorities to account on behalf of local people. It is vital that this unfair competition, which causes real damage to local newspapers, be stopped as a matter of urgency.”

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The calls come on the back of increased pressure on non-complying councils, with The Times newspaper today (Friday) criticising East End Life directly for the amount of uncontested coverage afforded to Tower Hamlets Mayor Lutfur Rahman.

Despite these calls, Tower Hamlets council recently insisted that they would continue to publish East End Life, arguing that the publication, which costs �1.2m per year, represents “the most cost effective way of fulfilling our legal duty to inform the local community and promote race equality, healthy lifestyles and positive change.”

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