Councillor: Local authority's newsletters complement press. MPs: Newsletters are propaganda

A councillor yesterday claimed local authorities helped sustain, rather than kill off local newspapers.

Liberal Democrat Gerald Vernon-Jackson told a select committee hearing looking at the future of regional media that Portsmouth Council’s paper Flagship complemented the city’s privately run newspaper.

He said the idea that the council can complement the local paper is a smokescreen to the real problem that council’s pose with their publications.

The council was effectively subsidising the local paper, by providing it with £970,000 of revenue, he added.

According to the Independent he told the Committee: “We in local authorities are in many ways keeping these newspapers afloat. We keep pumping money into these papers, hundreds of thousands of pounds a year.”

He may be referring, at least in part, to the amount of money councils spend advertising jobs and public notices in local papers each year.

And of course there is some truth in what he says. Otherwise why would local and regional newspaper editors be so worried about the potential loss of revenue if councils end the tradition of publishing statutory notices in the local press? And politicians get the hebegebees?

Vernon-Jackson said the £40,000 that Portsmouth council was obliged to spend on publishing planning notices in the local paper was a “complete and utter waste of money”.

MPs on the committee yesterday were moved sufficiently to accuse local councils of producing “propaganda” publications that could put local newspapers out of business.

MPs of all parties on the culture, media and sport select committee expressed concerns about the effect of council freesheets.

But they rounded particularly on the fortnightly H&F News produced by the London borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, reported the Guardian.

Conservative MP Philip Davies described the publication as “council propaganda masquerading as an independent newspaper”

Adrian Sanders, a Liberal Democrat MP, described the H&F News as the work of a “communist council that believes in state ownership of newspapers and is putting private newspapers out of business”.

Labour MP Rosemary McKenna branded it “a pretend newspaper”, pointing to a prominent article that was a “clear attack on the government”.

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