The Newspaper Society, the body representing regional publishers, has asked the Office of Fair Trading to examine the impact of council publications on local papers after the Audit Commission declined Lord Carter’s invitation to look at the issue.
Lynne Anderson, NS communications director, wrote to the OFT this week asking if it would take up Carter’s request to look at how local papers were being adversely affected by the emergence of council-run publications.
The body was spurred into action after the Audit Commission chosen to limit the scope of its own inquiry to just assess the value local authorities obtain from their advertising spend.
Anderson wrote: “It would be unfortunate, given the concerns expressed by the OFT, by Digital Britain and by ministers at a senior level within the Government, if the market impact of local authority publications on the commercial local media industry was not examined at all and if no-one was able to make any recommendations to Government on whether constraints should be placed on those local authorities which may be overstepping the mark.”
As part of his final Digital Britain report, then communications minister Lord Carter asked the Audit Commission to undertake a specific inquiry into the prevalence of council run papers and their impact on the regional and local press.
However, the Audit Commission refused to widen the scope of its inquiry beyond assessing the effectiveness of local council advertising.
In a letter to the Newspaper Society in July Steve Bundred, chief executive of the Audit Commission, said its expertise did not lend itself to examining the ‘health of local newspapers or examining the impact of specific local authority practices on commercial bodies.’
He added: “This element of the Digital Britain invitation appears better suited to regulators with a specific competition remit.”
Audit Commission, Bundred said, would carry out research that examines the value achieved by council spending on communicating with the public, which would cover funds spent through council newsletters and local papers, income derived from these titles and funds spent on recruitment advertising.