Eric Pickles: Government will introduce new Bill banning 'town hall Pravdas'

The Government will introduce a new Bill in the next session of Parliament banning local authorities from publishing so-called town hall Pravdas, according to Communities and Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles.

Pickles told journalists at a Newspaper Conference lunch in Westminster that the new legislation would be aimed at dealing with a “hard core” of local authorities who continued using public funds to publish their own newspapers.

In February 2011 the Government's revised Code of Recommended Practice on Local Authority Publicity said that only parish councils could produce monthly magazines, with other councils limited to quarterly frequency.

The majority of councils accepted the recommendations but several continue to defy the Government, including Tower Hamlets and the Royal Borough of Greenwich. Some authorities publish monthly, fortnightly and even weekly.

According to the Newspaper Society, Pickles said the Government needed to “stop a bunch of hard core authorities” who continued to publish competing council newspapers that damaged the local press, adding: "We need an independent voice.”

He also spoke of an “untouchable class, a new kind of elite among chief officers of councils” who were “abusing their position to use the deep pockets of their councils to pursue libel actions” and “trying to stymie people and intimidate them when they’re asking legitimate questions".

Pickles said: “We will be changing the law to ensure that if the council is going use its financial resources to initiate a defamation process, they will have to take it to full council to vote on it.”

Earlier this year Pickles said council-run local papers were a “process of self-aggrandisement, self publicity", adding that it was “not a public service, it's propaganda”.

"What we will do is we will put it on a statutory footing and we will stop these town hall Pravdas,” said Pickles.

In recent years local newspapers in many parts of the UK have found themselves competing for advertising and readers with local authority-published titles.

In September 2011 the council newspaper the Greenwich Time was reported to the District Auditor amid claims it breached Government guidelines on local authority publications.

Tower Hamlets Council also continues to publish a weekly paper called East London Life. In its defence it says that “local authorities have a duty to promote community cohesion, race equality and reduce fear of crime and promote a healthy lifestyle”.

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