Communities Secretary Eric Pickles is throwing his support behind Local Newspaper Week with a new law that will enshrine free press and help independent local newspapers thrive.
In a letter to the Newspaper Society, praising them for their campaign to highlight the contribution of the local newspaper industry, Mr Pickles says that when “local news flourishes, local democracy succeeds” and so he will be stopping councils from publishing regular “Pravda-style” free-sheets which, threaten local newspapers and waste taxpayers’ money printing up “town hall propaganda”.
Free press vital
Mr Pickles said he believes the 1,100 local newspapers across the country are important for preserving a healthy democracy by holding local authorities and politicians to account through informing readers of council activities. Local papers are read by over 30 million people every week and are viewed as one of the most trustworthy forms of media.
Publicity law necessary
Legislation proposed in the Local Audit and Accountability Bill will bring a new code of recommended practice on local authority publicity onto a statutory, rather than voluntary, footing limiting publication to 4 times a year, obliging councils to be cost effective and objective in any publicity material they publish.
Some councils have deliberately disregarded the current code and continue to publish free papers in direct competition to local newspapers. The new legislation will prevent this waste of tax payers’ money and misuse of council resources.
Mr Pickles said:
The spread of the town hall ‘Pravda’ is manifestly unfair because they offer cut price local news, but mixed in with council propaganda that pours taxpayers money down the drain.
These free-sheets are often confused for the real thing by residents. I want our news to be told and sold under the masthead of an independent and free press, not through a knock-off Rolex imitation.
Where a council ignores the statutory code, the government or a concerned member of the public could seek a court order to enforce it. Disregard for that would result in contempt of court.