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No way back for town hall freesheet as judges reject council’s appeal

A council must stop publishing a fortnightly newspaper in defiance of government guidelines, the Court of Appeal has ruled.

Last month Hackney Council suspended publication of its Hackney Today newsletter pending an appealagainst a previous High Court ruling that it should publish its Hackney Today newsletter no more than quarterly, in line with government guidelines.

But judges yesterday rejected the appeal, meaning there is now no way back for the controversial freesheet.

The council has now confirmed there are “no more legal options available” following the latest ruling and that statutory public notices, which had appeared in Hackney Today, will now appear in local newspapers instead.

Hackney T

The news has been welcomed by Keith Magnum, editor of the independent Hackney Citizen.

Keith told HTFP: “We will continue to report as thoroughly as possible on council matters in the interests of local democracy and good governance. The fact that we are no longer forced to compete for advertising with a taxpayer-subsidised not-quite-fortnightly freesheet is welcome news.”

But Mayor of Hackney Philip Glanville described the ruling as “extremely disappointing.”

After suspending publication of Hackney Today, the council replaced it with a new title called Hackney Life which it says will provide “information, not news.”

Coun Glanville said: “As well as saving the council tens of thousands of pounds by not having to pay to advertise statutory notices in the local press, it was by far one of our most effective and popular ways to communicate with our diverse communities.

“We know it was especially valued by our older residents, young families, social housing tenants, people on benefits and those with disabilities. Indeed, many people from these groups, or organisations representing them, have expressed their sadness about the loss of Hackney Today.

“It contains different editorial content to local newspapers, and has been invaluable to the Council in supporting people during austerity, informing them about complex issues and promoting community cohesion. There is also nothing else out there that gives so much space to celebrating the wonderful diversity at the heart of Hackney. The borough will be a poorer place without it.

“Taking legal action was not something the Council did lightly. However, our priority has always been about informing and empowering our diverse communities, as well as making the most of our reduced funding, and we believed the strong case for continuing fortnightly publication of Hackney Today justified our judicial review at the High Court and our request to appeal.

“The money saved by not having to pay to advertise statutory notices – such as planning applications and road closures – during this period vastly outweighs the legal costs we incurred.

“We now face a situation where tens of thousands of pounds will have to be diverted away from services and towards paying for notices in a local newspaper where they will be seen by far fewer people, and a heightened risk of people who may benefit from council services and opportunities no longer finding out about them.”

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  • August 8, 2019 at 3:02 pm

    To produce its paper Hackney employs more than a dozen communications staff in its press department.

    As many as Yorkshire’s unitary authorities combined.

    So forgive me if I don’t believe the Mayor that this saves the council money.

    Considering how much it costs to print a paper as well I find it all very strange that this a good use of taxpayer’s money.

    I do not believe for one second that the cost of public notices in the Hackney Citizen is more than the cost of employing a dozen people and printing and distributing your own paper.

    This is all about controlling a message and trying to stop negative stories from appearing (I believe Hackney Today was launched after the council went into special measures a while back).

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