London paper defends £1m council advertising deal

A South London newspaper has denied claims an advertising deal that could be worth up to £1m between the paper and Lambeth council is in breach of a new government code.

The joint group editor of Southwark News Ltd, Chris Mullany, said the deal – whereby the Labour-led council will purchase public notice and advertising space over a five-year period in its Weekender title – did not compromise the credibility of its publications.

But Lambeth Lib Dem councillor Jeremy Clyne has called in the decision allowing Lambeth to go into partnership with the media group – claiming the council will ‘gain a substantial degree of control over the operations and policies of the company, and guarantee favourable coverage of its policies and actions”.

Clyne also claimed council advertorials ‘would appear to most readers as newspaper articles”.

Responding to the claims, Mullany said: ‘It will be clearly marked as advertorial, separate from editorial, just as any other newspaper.”

He added: ‘they [the council] have no editorial control over us, we’re independent, nothing changes there”.

Mullany said he was surprised when he heard the decision was being called in as Cllr Clyne had visited the newspaper’s office and said he was looking forward to working with them.

The leader of Lambeth Council, Labour councilor Steve Reed, said: ‘By setting up a partnership we pay less, we will get free advertisements for campaigns we would otherwise have to pay for, such as recruiting foster parents.

‘This deal is about securing value for money, it’s not about editorial control. Labour’s preference is that the Government should stop forcing councils to waste millions of pounds nationally by making us place advertisements in newspapers instead of online which would cost the taxpayer far, far less.’

The council has valued the contract at £1m over five years, though this could change depending on how much space is required over that period.

In January 2011 new laws were passed as part of a local authority ‘publicity code’ under which councils were banned from publishing newspapers more than four times a year.

Mullany said it was ironic that a local Lib Dem was complaining about the tender, when it was his own party, as part of the Coalition Government, that had imposed the changes on councils .

Lambeth Life, the council’s fortnightly newsletter, ceased publication in March as a result of the code.

The deal has not yet come into effect and a cross-party scrutiny committee meeting at Lambeth Town Hall on 9 June will decide whether or not to act on Cllr Clyne’s recommendations.

A Liberal Democrat statement released today said that ‘opposition councilors are alarmed that the new publication will offer no opportunity to counter the official line or correct politically biased information”.

Southwark News Ltd comprises Southwark News, a weekly paid-for newspaper with a circulation of 11,000, and Weekender, a free monthly delivered to 30,000 homes in Southwark and Lambeth.

UPDATE: Cllr Clyne has denied saying he looked forward to working with the newspaper. He said: “It is not true that I said I looked forward to working with Southwark News.

“The purpose of the visit, with a colleague, was to find out more about this arrangement with the Council and I expressed no opinion one way or the other. Mr Mullany was not at the meeting.”

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