Two ELL councils risk facing court action after Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles, attacked their publicly funded newspapers.
Hackney Today and Tower Hamlets’ East End Life were two of the five free publications accused of breaching government guidelines on print frequency and objective coverage.
“Localism needs robust and independent scrutiny by the press and public, and municipal state-produced newspapers suppress that. Town hall Pravdas not only waste taxpayers’ money unnecessarily, they undermine free speech”, Pickles said.
According to the latest Publicity Code, councils should ensure that their newspapers offer valuable and balanced coverage in no more than four editions per year.
Conservative Pickles targeted free-sheets from the Labour-run Hackney, who distribute Hackney Today fortnightly, and Tower Hamlets, run by independent mayor Luftur Rahman, whose publication East End Life is handed out weekly.
In reaction to the criticisms from Pickles a representative from Hackney council said: “We have told the Minister many times that we will cease fortnightly production of Hackney Today as soon as he ends the costly and outdated requirement on councils to place statutory advertising in a local newspaper.”
Tower Hamlets authority also defended decision to produce a publication weekly, explaining how it actually complied with the government guidelines by providing important information to all residents.
A spokesperson said: “Whilst the code states councils cannot publish a newspaper more than quarterly, it also says they have a duty to provide cost-effective information to all residents on issues that affect them, like community safety, public health and social cohesion.”
All five councils are expected to justify their compliance to provisions by the end of the month, or they could face court action as Pickles is determined to pursue the cause further.
He said: “I have given written notice to councils most clearly breaching the Publicity Code, noting that Parliament has passed new laws to tackle this abuse. We are prepared to take further action against any council that undermines local democracy – whatever the political colour.”
By Cristiana Bedei