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Scrap council tax-funded free newspapers, Minister is urged

PUBLISHED: 17:01 21 August 2009 | UPDATED: 14:45 05 October 2010

Local newspapers at risk from council tax-funded freesheets

Local newspapers at risk from council tax-funded freesheets

THE trade body representing Britain’s regional newspapers has joined the growing campaign against Town Hall freesheets paid for out of council taxes. The Newspaper Society has written to Local Government Minister Rosie Winterton protesting at competition which it says is endangering local democracy

By Mike Brooke

THE trade body representing Britain’s regional newspapers has joined the growing campaign against Town Hall freesheets paid for out of council taxes.

The Newspaper Society has written to Local Government Minister Rosie Winterton protesting at competition which it says is endangering local democracy.

The Society’s communications director Lynne Anderson is asking for a meeting with the minister after warning that councils are damaging the local press with subsidised publications circulated to every household.

“An increasing number of councils are actively competing for readers and advertising revenue,” her letter says.

“It is causing real damage to these businesses at a time when local authorities are meant to be helping them through the recession.

“Local newspapers are vital to any healthy democracy, scrutinising local authorities, examining how council taxpayers’ money is spent and holding elected representatives to account.”

The trend towards authority-subsidised freesheets began with Tower Hamlets council’s £1.5 million-a-year East End Life’ competing against the East London Advertiser, which has been established since 1866.

The Newspaper Society’s move comes after it emerged that Birmingham city council’s freesheet which costs £600,000 a year could be scrapped. Doncaster and Cornwall county have already closed their publicly-funded papers.

The first subsidised freesheet to go was The Londoner launched when Ken Livingstone was Mayor, which was scrapped as soon as Boris Johnson took over at City Hall last year, saving London taxpayers an estimated £3 million a year.

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