(UPDATED WEDNESDAY 11.15AM – The government confirms its plans to crack down on titles such as Greenwich Time and launches a public consultation – see below.)
The government will confirm a crackdown on council-funded newspapers and magazines this week as it seeks to protect media groups which claim they cost them readers and advertising revenue.
Eric Pickles, the communities and local government secretary, will announce new guidelines ahead of the Conservative party conference this weekend that will effectively ban councils from using taxpayers’ money to produce free papers and magazines, MediaGuardian.co.uk can reveal.
Pickles promised at the start of the summer to ban what he called “weekly town hall Pravdas” in an Observer piece, but the details of tougher guidelines have now been agreed following consultation with the newspaper industry.
Under the new rules, it is understood councils will only be allowed to publish free titles four times a year. They will also have to remove any content which appears to praise the council or endorse the quality of its local services, including quotes from local residents.
For Greenwich Time, read Lambeth Life, H&F News, East End Life, and all the rest. I’m told some Greenwich Labour councillors attribute their party’s success at May’s election to the glowing coverage of municipal goings-on in the council weekly (as opposed to their hard work, high profile in the community, etc). It’ll be interesting to see how they react if these restrictions on council papers are as strong as Eric Pickles wants us to believe they are.
Meanwhile, the News Shopper – a stern critic of Greenwich Time – has been busy showing the fearless coverage of SE London matters it’s best known for, reporting on a police car parking in a disabled parking bay at, er, 4am. What a brave new world of journalism we are in. (LATER: See also this pub review dubbing Kidbrooke and Lewisham “crime hotspots” – nice.)
UPDATE: The Government has confirmed plans to crack down on council-run newspapers, as the leak to Media Guardian reported above. At present, all councils have to abide by “a code on recommended practice for local authority publicity”. The government plans to substantially change this – and here’s the paragraphs that directly affect Greenwich Time.
However, bearing in mind Greenwich Council leader Chris Roberts has repeatedly defended GT as offering value for money compared with other ways of getting council information to the public, I wonder if this offers them a get-out clause?
And one further way around the proposals – could Greenwich seek a commercial partner to produce GT with? Tory-run Hammersmith and Fulham wants to go down that route.
The full proposals can be found here. They’re now out to consultation – so if it’s an issue you feel strongly about, you can write in as an aggrieved/ delighted council taxpayer between now and 10 November – details below.
If you do respond to the consultation, I’d love to know what you say. In the meantime, it’ll be interesting to find out what Greenwich Council’s next move on this will be, considering it’s only a couple of months after they stuck their head in the sand and ignored any prospect of this happening.