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Legal crackdown on town hall Pravdas moves forward

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles has launched a fresh consultation on plans for a legal crackdown on town hall “Pravdas”.

He wants to protect the local newspaper industry by bringing the force of law to the existing Publicity Code, which restricts councils to publishing their newspapers four times a year.

Mr Pickles said a number of local authorities were still flouting the code and publishing weekly titles.

The Newspaper Society has led the calls by the industry for the Publicity Code to be brought into law, saying advertising in some council newspapers was damaging local papers.

Mr 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.”

The consultation, entitled “Protecting the independent press from unfair competition”, proposes giving the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government the power to direct authorities to comply with the Publicity Code.

If a council still failed to meet the Publicity Code, the law could be enforced through a court order.

In an article about the consultation, the News Shopper has highlighted that Greenwich Council’s publication Greenwich Time is still published every week and claimed its front page featured news of its council tax freeze for three weeks in a row.

It also said the council sometimes held back stories from the local press until they were published as exclusives in its paper.

For further information on the consultation, which closes on 6 May, click here.