H&F News to be Replaced as Govt Cracks Down on Town Hall "Pravdas"
Council to tender contract for "independent" publisher of new paper
Hammersmith and Fulham Council has announced that its newspaper, H & F News is to be "transformed". This means it will disappear in its current format and will be replaced by a new as yet unnamed local newspaper with guaranteed editorial independence.
The council's move comes one day after the Government announced a crackdown on free council papers which compete directly with independent local press.
Communities Secretary Eric Pickles said he was determined to stop council taxpayers' money being spent on "frivolous town hall propaganda papers" at a time when many local papers were struggling to survive.
" An independent local press is an essential part of our open democracy, helping local people scrutinise and hold elected councillors to account, " he added.
"The rules around council publicity have been too weak for too long allowing public money to be spent on frivolous town hall propaganda papers that have left many local newspapers looking over the abyss - weakening our free press - or to use 'hired-gun' lobbyists that operate in the shadows to bulldoze special interests through.
"The proposals I am publishing today will close off these inappropriate practices and make sure that councils focus taxpayers' money on where it should be spent - protecting frontline services."
These proposals include limiting publication will be limited to just four times a year and content will be restricted to factual material relating directly to council services and not comment or commentary. Councils will also be prevented from using taxpayers' money to lobby central government through private sector lobbying firms and publicity stalls at party conferences.
It is not clear how these proposals would affect the council's plan to enter a partnership arrangement with an independent news provider to produce the new paper.
This partnership, it says, would produce "low communication costs" and would guarantee 100% editorial independence whilst ensuring that council tax payers benefit from a share of advertising profits.
And, it says, while H&F wants no say in editorial coverage, it wants to use the newspaper to communicate and engage with residents in allocated space clearly set aside for the council.
Eric Pickles began questioning the need for council newspapers shortly after the General Election, and in June he went further promising a clamp down on "town hall Pravdas".
The latest announcement has been welcomed by the Newspaper Society.
H& F council leader Sephen Greenhalgh said: "Local newspapers and local authorities should work together more closely. We expect to be criticised when we get things wrong and we want a newspaper that reflect the views of the community, particularly at a time when all councils face tough spending decisions.
September 30, 2010