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New law to prevent free press facing state competition from propaganda on the rates

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles proposes a toughening up of rules governing local authority publicity.

Pile of newspapers

The Secretary of State today (8 April 2013) announced his intention to legislate council publicity rules in order to preserve a strong, vibrant and independent local press.

Although required to comply with the ‘Code of recommended practice on local authority publicity’, brought in by this government, Mr Pickles is seriously concerned about a rogue number of local authorities who continue to flout the rules and abuse taxpayers’ money by publishing “political propaganda”.

In the broadcast media, regulator Ofcom recently concluded that the London Borough of Tower Hamlets had breached ‘The Communications Act 2003’, the ‘UK Code of Broadcast Advertising’ and the ‘Code on local authority publicity’. However there are no such restrictions which stop political advertising in print.

The consultation, launched today, is seeking views on how best to frame the new legislation to stop politically contentious advertising campaigns, municipal newspapers and the hiring of lobbyists by councils.

Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles said:

“Some councils are undermining the free press and wasting taxpayers’ money which should be spent carefully on the front line services that make a real difference to quality of life. It should not, under any circumstances, be used to fund political propaganda and town hall Pravdas and yet a hardcore minority of councils continue to ignore the rules despite public concern.

“The line in the sand is clear, publicity material straying into propaganda clearly crosses that line, and this legislation will stop this disgraceful misuse of public money, which damages local democracy and threatens an independent, free and vibrant local press.”

Further information

For more information on the consultation, see ‘Protecting the independent press from unfair competition’.

The publicity code was revised in March 2011 to, among other things, introduce recommendations on the frequency, content and appearance of local authority newspapers. Principal authorities should only publish council newspapers once a quarter.

The code was originally introduced in 1988 and amended by the last government in 2001. The revised code applies to England only. The purpose of the code was to ensure proper use of public funds for publicity. Effective, efficient publicity that successfully tells the public what they need to know about the services and activities of their council is legitimate; the public need information to hold their authority to account. The publicity code is statutory guidance to which local authorities have to have regard in the production of their publicity.

Published 8 April 2013