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More councils given final warning over fortnightly newsletters

Three London councils have been warned they should not be publishing their newspapers more than four times a year.

The authorities at Hackney, Newham and Waltham Forest, each of which prints a fortnightly title, have been given until the end of April to comply with the code of recommended practice on local authority publicity which limits the frequency of publication to quarterly.

The provision states that local authority newsletters, news sheets or similar communications should be issued no more frequently than quarterly so they do not push out or undermine the independent press.

All publicly-funded news sheets now published by councils are also expected to be objective and represent value for money.

Last week, Communities Secretary Eric Pickles took action against Greenwich Council which was given until the end of this month to stop publishing its weekly newspaper, Greenwich Time.

The three other councils could face a similar direction, but first have two weeks to make representations to the secretary of state.

In a written parliamentary statement, local government minister Kris Hopkins said: “Following this, the secretary of state will take his final decision in each case about whether or not to issue the council with a direction. Each decision will be taken on its own merits.”

Last April, Mr Pickles attacked five London councils for behaving like Russian president Vladimir Putin over their alleged attempts to drive local newspapers “out of business”.

He described the council-published newsletters as “Town Hall Pravdas”, a reference to Russian political newspapers associated with the Communist Party of the former Soviet Union.

Formal letters were sent to the five councils responsible for Greenwich Time, Hackney Today, the Newham Mag, Waltham Forest News and (Tower Hamlets) East End Life.

The letters were the first in a series of measures available to Mr Pickles to force them to comply with the publicity code, part of the new Local Audit and Accountability Act passed in January last year.

Labour spoke out against the proposals during the passage of the legislation, accusing the coalition of behaving like a “crackpot dictatorship” and claiming it would enable ministers to stop local authorities from printing stories they did not like.