Law to curtail council newspaper 'propaganda'

Six Labour councils have vowed to continue publishing weekly or fortnightly papers

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A new law may be put in place to ban local councils from publishing newspapers more than four times a year, BBC London has learned.

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles had previously instituted a code requesting councils not to do so.

But now he wants that to become law, arguing they are a waste of public money and amount to "propaganda".

Six London councils have vowed to continue publishing weekly or fortnightly papers.

Waltham Forest, Tower Hamlets, Newham, Greenwich, Hackney and Barking and Dagenham - all Labour - plan to resist the minister's call for a cutback.

Meanwhile two Conservative London councils - Croydon and Hillingdon - currently publish six newspapers a year, making them in breach of the existing code.

Mr Pickles MP said: "It's a process of self-aggrandizement, self-publicity, going on their own particular message.

'Waste of paper'

Start Quote

It's not public service, it's propaganda”

End Quote Eric Pickles MP Communities Secretary

"It's not public service, it's propaganda.

"We will put it on a statutory footing - and we will stop these town hall Pravdas."

He was backed by newspaper industry magazine the Press Gazette, which warned council freesheets were taking much-needed revenue from independent local newspapers.

Dominic Ponsford, editor of the Press Gazette, said: "It's never really been in the spirit of the law anyway.

"So I think the industry as a whole will be relieved the government's cracking down on them and giving local newspapers - which are already under pressure - a bit of breathing space."

Tower Hamlets alone spent £1.2m a year on its weekly paper - but has refused to cut the number of issues it prints, despite previous pressure from Mr Pickles.

Takki Sulaiman, head of communications at Tower Hamlets Council, said: "It's about services, it's about community groups, it's about community cohesion.

"Local authorities have a duty to promote community cohesion, race equality, reduce fear of crime and promote healthy lifestyles."

However people on the streets of Poplar, Tower Hamlets, were less enthusiastic about the publication.

One resident told BBC London: "There's too much of the mayor. If he's got something to say he should say it once."

Meanwhile another described the newspaper as a "waste of paper."

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