After a lengthy period of consultation, and criticism from both councils and an all-party group of MPs, the government’s original plans – which also cover advertising and lobbying – have come through largely intact, according to PR Week.
Pickles said the existing rules had been ‘too weak for too long, squandering public funds and pushing local newspapers out into the abyss’, and has banned municipal newspapers from being published more often than four times a year, while preventing councils from hiring lobbyists.
The rules also stipulate that council advertising should not be politicised or commentary on ‘contentious areas of public policy’.
‘Some councils have pushed this to the limits and were effectively lobbying on the rates,’ said Pickles. ‘The changes I have put into force today will bring the town hall pravda printing presses to a grinding halt, stop professional lobbyists being hired and make it crystal clear that any blatant vanity PR or politicised advertising by councils using public funds is a breach of the code.’
What does this mean for Greenwich Time? At the moment, not a lot – these are only guidelines, after all. That said, Lewisham is cutting back its monthly Lewisham Life magazine from April (“to save money”, it claims) and other boroughs are cutting theirs.
Examples of papers like GT are actually pretty rare, especially outside London. You don’t have to look far to find the one other borough in the country which produces a weekly – and even then, Tower Hamlets mayor Lutfur Rahman is reviewing the future of East End Life. If that goes, it’d leave Greenwich Time an isolated case.
At present, there’s no sign of Greenwich changing its stance on Greenwich Time – it’s due to lose two freelance staff in the first round of cuts, but the council leadership has always claimed the paper is very close to paying its way and it’s in their plans for the next financial year. The weakness of the printed local media in SE London strengthen’s the council’s argument – however, much of its content remains shameless propaganda, with difficult issues glossed over or ignored.
The guidelines become rules in April, but what action could the government take to shut GT? And would we even see a “save Greenwich Time” campaign, with hitherto unknown ‘community leaders’ and people who think the council should provide TV listings wheeled out in support? There could be an intriguing row ahead.
One other thought – will the News Shopper, which came out fighting against GT for a short-lived campaign last year – be following all this up so closely this time around? We wait and see…
UPDATE 2:15PM: The new code has been published – see above for the telling paragraph. It will have to be approved by Parliament before becoming law.