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.”