Town Hall ‘Pravdas’ on notice to quit
RELEASE DATE: 3 October 2014
News this week that the Government is taking action against 11 councils to clamp down on the frequent publication of town hall news-sheets, has been welcomed by a journalists’ body.
The Chartered Institute of Journalists (CIoJ) has campaigned against taxpayer-funded council ‘Pravdas’ for more than six years, on the basis that they are harming local newspapers and being used for local authority propaganda purposes.
This week it was revealed that legal action could be taken in a matter of weeks if these councils fail to stop or justify actions considered not to be in compliance with the local government Publicity Code.
CIoJ member Janice Shillum Bhend campaigned against the launch of bi-monthly Waltham Forest News which, according to the then managing editor of the Guardian series of local newspapers, was instrumental in the closure of their local office and several redundancies.
She said: “We at the CIoJ are only too aware of the damage that these ‘Pravdas’ have caused to local journalism, journalists and indeed local democracy throughout the UK.
“It is more than time councils were controlled and prevented from using our council taxes to tell us only what they want us to hear. Waltham Forest’s exercise in vanity publishing has cost residents in excess of £3million over the last six years.”
Formal notice letters about non-compliance have been sent to the councils. These are the first step to any legal action by the Secretary of State to require compliance with the Publicity Code, using his powers introduced by the Local Audit and Accountability Act.
The Code sets out a range of provisions on the frequency, content and appearance of taxpayer-funded news-sheets. This includes limiting publication to prevent competition with local newspapers.
The CIoJ’s campaign has been backed up by Local Government minister Kris Hopkins who said this week: “Frequent town hall free-sheets are not only a waste of taxpayers’ money but they undermine the free press. Councillors and political parties are free to campaign and put out political literature but they should not do so using taxpayers’ money.
“This is the eleventh hour for 11 councils who we consider are clearly flouting the Publicity Code. They have all now been given written notice that we are prepared to take further action against any council that undermines local democracy – whatever the political colour.”
Note to Editors:
- Link to Government announcement here: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/ministers-move-to-defend-independent-free-press
The Government is taking action against the London Boroughs of Enfield, Greenwich, Hackney, Hillingdon, Lambeth, Newham and Waltham Forest, Tower Hamlets Council in East London, as well as Luton, Medway and North Somerset councils over the frequency of their municipal newspapers.
The councils now have a fortnight to show why a legal direction the Secretary of State may choose to issue, is not necessary. Any council that does not follow any subsequent legal direction could end up facing a court order requiring compliance.
- Formed in 1884, the Chartered Institute of Journalists (CIoJ) is the world’s oldest established professional body for journalists, and a representative voice of media and communications professionals throughout the UK and the Commonwealth.