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Stop town hall political newspapers paid for by council tax, MP urges

PUBLISHED: 09:52 23 June 2009 | UPDATED: 14:28 05 October 2010

Galloway... blasting council newspapers

Galloway... blasting council newspapers

FIERY MP George Galloway is calling for legislation to restrict town halls splashing taxpayers' cash on running their own political newspapers. He has singled out Tower Hamlets in London's deprived East End for dipping into public funds to print a free weekly to every household to promote political interests of the ruling group controlling the authority

By Mike Brooke

FIERY MP George Galloway is calling for legislation to restrict town halls splashing taxpayers’ cash on running their own political newspapers.

He has singled out Tower Hamlets council in London’s deprived East End for dipping into public funds to print and distribute a free weekly newspaper to every household to promote the political interests of the ruling group controlling the local authority.

“There is an ongoing crisis in regional newspapers due to the fall in advertising revenues which has been compounded by the credit crunch,” Galloway says in a Commons Motion before Parliament today.

“The demise of regional newspapers would seriously undermine local democracy.

“The establishment of weekly newspapers distributed free to every household by local councils further undermines the viability of regional newspapers.”

POLITICAL INTERESTS

His Early Day Motion stresses that “council-run newspapers, like East End Life’ in Tower Hamlets, are primarily established to promote the political interests of the ruling group rather than provide impartial and essential information.”

The resolution being signed by MPs this week says legislation “needs to be passed urgently to restrict councils from spending taxpayers’ money on regular council newspapers.”

The Bethnal Green & Bow MP points out that regional newspapers “play a vital role in ensuring democracy at local level.”

His resolution also congratulates the East London Advertiser for winning Regional Newspaper of the Year’ for the second year running.

STRUGGLE

The Advertiser has been engaged in a struggle in the recession, like all other local newspapers, with advertising revenue drying up—in the face of Tower Hamlets funding its free East End Life’ delivered through 80,000 letterboxes every week, financed out of taxpayers’ public funds.

It is estimated to cost around £1,500,000 a year, with much of this accounting buried by internal revenue advertising from different council departments.

Criticism by the MP against the practice has been the way the ruling Labour administration, currently under Labour’s Lutfur Rahman, is using East End Life’ as a weekly mouthpiece promoting the majority political party on the authority.

MONOPOLISE

One example cited recently was what critics have called misleading coverage of this year’s Labour budget claiming the council tax rise was among the lowest in London at 1.2 per cent, omitting the true increase in household bills with the GLA precept added, bringing it to around 2.5 per cent—one of the highest in London. It also ignored alternative budget proposals by Opposition parties.

Critics believe East End Life’ is also overstepping the mark by attempting to delve into media activity by trying to monopolise reporting events in Tower Hamlets.

They cite Prince William opening the Whitechapel Gallery’s new extension in May when it applied for a royal rota’ pass to cover the visit exclusively for the local press when it wasn’t entitled to—by wrongly claiming to be part of Mirror Group newspapers.

Its attempt was rejected by the Newspaper Society, which rightly awarded the coverage to the Advertiser.

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