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Crackdown on ‘town hall Pravdas’ clears Parliament

A bill which aims to boost local newspapers by limiting “town hall Pravdas” is set to become law after clearing Parliament yesterday.

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles aims to protect the local press by preventing council newspapers being published more than four times a year.

A Publicity Code about local authority publications was introduced in 2011 but this will be strengthened with the Local Authority and Accountability Bill, which allows the government to intervene if councils flout the rules.

The bill has also had measures added to give journalists and local people the right to film and use social media at council meetings in England.

It cleared the House of Lords last night and is set to become law.

The bill will also give the government the power to act if it thinks a council’s publicity campaign is too political.

Mr Pickles published guidance last June about access to council meetings, which said that people should be allowed to use social media and film procedings, but a number of councils have not complied.

Speaking in the Lords, Communities and Local Government Minister Baroness Stowell of Beeston, said: “We are aware of some recent examples of councils ejecting members of the public from meetings for filming or tweeting from those meetings.

“That is why we have decided to bring forward these amendments now.”

The bill also covers a range of other issues, including council tax, parish polls and audits, including the abolition of the Audit Commission and allowing private companies to carry out auditing work for public bodies.


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  • January 22, 2014 at 11:52 am

    A lot of people I know say there is useful information in these Pravdas. Stuff that established newspapers used to include but which they now apparently consider is beneath them.
    No wonder newspapers are losing circulation.

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  • January 23, 2014 at 10:43 am

    I work on a local weekly paid-for newspaper which is struggling to keep its head above water for all sorts of reasons. No, we do not consider it ‘beneath us’ to cover council meetings properly – we would love to if only our newsrooms had not been stripped of journalists to the extent that we can no longer spare the staff time to do so.
    And if we cannot hold local councils to account on behalf of the tax-payer, who will?

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  • January 23, 2014 at 10:55 am

    “A lot of people I know”. Well there you go then.

    And newspapers are losing circulation because they’re not carrying useful information about the council?
    Do you work for one of these council rags?

    There is absolutely nothing wrong with councils producing newsletters where they can include this “useful information” which is “beneath” the local press and costing us circulation. Such newsletters are an important way of councils communicating with taxpayers – letting people know about services etc, even council achievements. Pretty much all councils do this and no sensible newspaper has a problem with this.

    But these newsletters are a totally different animal to the “Pravadas” which pretend to be real newspapers.

    Where these are produced, they are a huge threat to the local papers, taking both readers (because usually they’re free papers) and advertisers, while producing sanitised and pro-council stories without holding the authority to account properly.

    By putting papers at risk which are free to report on council matters independently, rather than following a pro-council agenda, the council is doing the public a dis-service.
    Worse, these council rags have none of the commercial risk of independents as they’re largely paid for by the taxpayer. In effect, taxpayers money is being spent keeping taxpayers in the dark.

    And the argument that some papers don’t cover councils properly is self-defeating. Putting more financial pressure on them will only hamper their coverage further.

    Of course there are some dreadful local papers out there, but even a rubbish newspaper isn’t as bad as propaganda sheet posing as a reliable newspaper.

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  • January 23, 2014 at 7:26 pm

    In reply to BobH: No I don’t work for Pravda, but I know a lot of former journalists that do.
    The public is not as stupid as many journalists think because most people know when they are being soft-soaped by the media.
    Part of the problem with newspapers today is that there are too many graduates working for them. They tend to come from cosy, middle-class backgrounds and look down on non-grads. Consequently, content is becoming more and more minority interest stuff. And circulations fall.
    You concede that there is nothing wrong with councils producing newsletters. Are councils supposed therefore to limit their headlines in these newsletters to 18pt so as not to compete with the commercial press?
    You say Pravda is drawing advertisers. That must mean that people read Pravda because advertisers are not going to part with hard-earned cash on something no-one pays any attention to.
    People, too, you say are reading these Pravda propaganda sheets. So you would deny the great British public this choice, would you?
    Pravda does not have the commercial risk of independents, but it is answerable to elected councillors… or is your cynicism saying that all such people are corrupt?
    The commercial press barely scratches the surface of what goes on in the UK. Most editors and journalists are scared to death of getting things wrong in case they lose their jobs (quite rightly, too with our corporate managements). As you know, it’s not called censorship in this country it’s called the law of libel.
    If the commercial press was worth reading, Pravda would be no threat to regional newspapers. There is room for both.

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  • January 27, 2014 at 5:32 pm

    Truth Will Out – would you like some salt and vinegar to go with the chip on your shoulder?

    Could you give me some examples of minority interest stuff, or have you made it up because you’re bitter that you couldn’t get into Uni?

    People like ke you are a big part of what is wrong with local newspapers.

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