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Pickles issues ultimatum on council freesheets

The government today gave five local authorities a deadline of a fortnight to explain why steps should not be taken to stop them publishing fortnightly or weekly newspapers.

Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles announced the crackdown against the London boroughs of Waltham Forest, Greenwich, Hackney, Newham and Tower Hamlets.

The move come after HTFP reported last week that Waltham Forest was defying a government minister over the publishing frequency of its newspaper.

New ministerial guidelines which took effect on 30 March are designed to restrict publication of rate-payer funded freesheets to four editions a year.

Mr Pickles said: “It is scandalous that bloggers have been handcuffed for tweeting from council meetings, whilst propaganda on the rates drives the free press out of business.

“Only Putin would be proud of a record like that.

“Localism needs robust and independent scrutiny by the press and public, and municipal state-produced newspapers suppress that.

“Town Hall Pravdas not only waste taxpayers’ money unnecessarily, they undermine free speech.

HTFP last week reported how Waltham Forest Council in North London was planning to continue publishing its Waltham Forest News fortnightly, despite being told not to by a government minister.

The matter came to light after a complaint by the Charted Institute of Journalists (CIoJ.

Under today’s move, councils are being told they could end up facing a court order requiring compliance if they do not act.

The department has sent formal letters to five London boroughs. That triggers the first legal steps the Secretary of State can now take to require compliance with the Publicity Code for local authorities, under the new Local Audit and Accountability Act.

The action is been taken against the municipal newspapers Hackney Today, the Newham mag and Waltham Forest News, all of which are published fortnightly, and Greenwich Time and East End Life, which are weekly.

The CIoJ originally raised the frequency of the council-run Waltham Forest News with the Department for Communities and Local Government.

It followed a complaint by CIoJ member Janice Shillum Bhend who lives in the borough.

She claimed that a letter had been written by parliamentary under-secretary of State Brandon Lewis to Waltham Forest council leader Chris Robbins telling him the publication should be less frequent than fortnightly.

The newsletter reportedly costs the taxpayer more than £480,000 a year to produce.

However the council said it had received no “formal” communication from the Government and would continue to publish the newspaper fortnightly until it did.

Nobody was immediately available to comment on today’s announcement for Waltham Forest.

However last week a spokesman told HTFP: “We publish Waltham Forest News fortnightly to ensure we regularly communicate with over 97,000 households as the Government insists that we pay to publish statutory notices in a printed newspaper and this is the most cost effective way to publish them to every household in the borough.

“The council is mindful of the statutory guidance for publicity. We have not received any formal communication from the Government under the new legislation. We will consider our position when we do so.”

Tim Jones, editor of the Waltham Forest Guardian, has described the Waltham Forest News as “self-serving” and in “nobody’s interests.”


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  • April 17, 2014 at 1:08 pm

    Odious fellow but he is spot on – what a waste of public money in many cases. Small low cost informative newsheets (your bin day has changed, new library service, etc) yes but full on publications no way

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  • April 17, 2014 at 2:07 pm

    These council freesheets can be either Tory or Labour, depending on which party is in power.
    Pickles simply has a right wing Tory agenda and is allied to the right wing Tory corporate press which wants to have all the advertising cake (or what’s left of it) to itself. He’s no friend of ordinary journalists or the public.
    The print journalists (with some exceptions) have historically always been disunited and opportunistic, unable to work with either printing unions of advertising staff, whom they have mostly looked down on.
    It would be in the interests of rank-and-file journalists for there to be all sorts of publications out there, from the sublime to the ridiculous.
    The upshot is that managements treat journalists like a doormat. Friendless and alone, the journos are now being killed off one by one, and the world soon forgets their passing.

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  • April 17, 2014 at 5:54 pm

    Nearly right Hard Cheese.
    As an ex local sales rep I concur with your comments about ‘Journalists’ looking down on advertising staff. In fact I would go further and say that they actually didn’t bother looking down because we where too far away to bother with, either that or they couldn’t see over their beer guts (historical note: this was the late seventies and eighties times were different then or so I have been told)
    Many a ‘Journalist’ has commented to me and my sales mates that it is only the quality of their stories that sells local newspapers if that’s so and the quality remains where have all the readers gone?
    The truth of the matter is that the purchase of a local newspaper has, in the main, been a habit passed from generation to generation just like the politics of families has been passed down.
    People have been known to change their politics and as such they are intitled to change how they access local and national stories.
    Regional Press, has in recent years, faced the same challenges that many other industries have faced over the past three decades or so i.e over staffing when times are good and staff reductions when times get tough. and in between time some people will make a lot of money while others suffer, that’s just life. Look at the Mining, Automotive and Banking sectors they have all seen many changes mainly due to new technology, the press industry is no different.
    Council backed free sheets will always have a political agenda but does that make them any different from some local or national newspapers, they all have a bias in one way or another the only difference is that Council free sheets are openly political and also openly commercial.
    As long as local councils have a breath in their body these publications will exist in one form or another. We should concentrate on improving our own local newspapers, web sites etal.
    Let’s embrace the new technologies and stop moaning about them.The past is gone the future has yet to be experienced but one thing is for certain the future will definately be different and’ vive la difference’
    A Happy Easter to all our readers

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  • April 22, 2014 at 9:52 am

    The Chartered Institute of Journalists is proud that our long-running campaign against these town hall Pravdas is finally on the statute book.
    The situation with Waltham Forest came about because one of our members – who lives in the borough – brought it to the attention of Mr Pickles’ office.
    We have a proud history of defending members with workplace disputes as a trade union and of campaigning on wider media issues. Care to join us?
    Find out more at
    Amanda Brodie
    Chairman Professional Practices Board
    Chartered Institute of Journalists

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  • April 23, 2014 at 4:40 pm

    We have long campaigned against Councils spending money on glossy propaganda sheets, which have had a significant impact on the demise of independent local newspapers. The arrogance of these local authorities ignoring the law is breath-taking. They expect residents to pay their Council tax and would take them to court in an instance to stamp their authority. How much tax payers money will now be wasted in defending their law-breaking position?

    Increasingly our members are facing agressive media manipulation tactics from council press officers seeking to surpress independent scrutiny of their paymasters. Is this another chilling effect of the arogant position gained from publishing this propaganda literature? Councils should stop wasting tax payers money on these pravdas and put more effort into encouraging their media staff to positively engage with journalists to get their message across.

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  • April 24, 2014 at 12:22 am

    No I am not happy when I have my Council tax money spent on openly political messages telling me what a great job the leaders are doing when there are blatantly poor services and inequality which is not tackled. Not everyone has the web so don’t tell me that is the “modern way” and frankly councils have to be respectful for the poorest and those who understand least. These residents are not helped by a glossy magazine in English spinning the truth. I don’t want openly commercial mags paid for out of the money I give to services. I can’t opt out and let’s see now if they want to incur court costs at my expense again? Newspapers may go to the wall for lots of reasons but councillors who only speak to inhouse publications should be hoisted by their own placard and I welcome this move to do just that.

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