Communities Secretary Sajid Javid has today (6 November 2017) issued directions to 2 councils to stop publishing their newspapers so frequently, or risk court action.
The London Boroughs of Hackney and Waltham Forest are currently publishing their respective newspapers on a fortnightly basis despite the Publicity Code recommending that councils do not put out a newspaper more than quarterly.
The Publicity Code sets out a series of principles to which all councils must have regard when producing publicity material. The vast majority of councils follow the Code in relation to the frequency of publication.
Ensuring council newspapers are released no more than quarterly aims to protect local democracy by making sure the independent local press do not face unfair competition.
Communities Secretary Sajid Javid said:
An independent free press is vital for local democracy and it’s important that we support them in holding local leaders to account.
Councils shouldn’t undermine local democracy by publishing their own newspapers more often than quarterly.
While the majority of councils abide by the Publicity Code, Hackney and Waltham Forest have ignored repeated requests to stop publishing their council newspapers so frequently. In the interests of local democracy, I will therefore use my powers to require them to do so.
Protecting the press, protecting democracy
Waltham Forest and Hackney have previously received written notices from the Communities Secretary indicating his intention to issue directions requiring them to comply with the Publicity Code around the frequency of publication of council newspapers.
Since then, the Communities Secretary has carefully considered all the representations from them about their free fortnightly newspapers. In doing so, he had regard to the Equalities Statement on enforcing the Publicity Code before coming to his decision to issue directions to both borough councils.
Once a direction has been issued the council is required to take the necessary decision to comply within 14 days or could face court action.
The Publicity Code sets out 7 key principles for local authority publicity. It notes any publicity should:
- be lawful
- be cost-effective
- be objective
- be even-handed
- be appropriate
- have regard to equality and diversity
- be issued with care during periods of heightened sensitivity
In 2011, the Code of Recommended Practice on Local Authority Publicity – the Publicity Code – was updated, and approved by Parliament, to make clear that no council newspaper or magazine should be published more than 4 times a year. The legislation on the Code was strengthened by the Local Audit and Accountability Act 2014.
The Communities Secretary has the power to issue a direction requiring a specified authority to comply with some, or all, of the Publicity Code. Sections 4A and 4B were inserted into the Local Government Act 1986 via provisions in the Local Audit and Accountability Act 2014 which gave the Secretary of State this power.