A council newspaper currently under review, will continue to be published weekly while the local authority considers a revised code of practice passed by parliament last night.
Tower Hamlets Borough Council, which publishes East End Life, said the code would “be considered as part of the review” due to go before the council’s cabinet on 11 May.
The Code of Recommended Practice on Local Authority Publicity – of which there is no legal obligation for councils to follow – was put forward in an attempt to crack down on “wasteful” use of council resources. It was passed by parliament last night.
Tower Hamlets’ review, which was launched in January, will “fully take into account the views of residents, businesses, schools and anyone else with an interest in the paper”, the council said in a statement. In February Jon Slattery reported that the Conservative opposition leader at Tower Hamlets said the council is ‘fighting to the death’ to preserve East End Life.
Commercial newspaper for Tower Hamlets, the Archant-owned East London Advertiser, today welcomed the revised code.
“The problems that we face, not just in the East End but across other areas too, are that the councils are out to control the papers by starving them of revenue in some cases and also being able to control messages they are putting out,” group editor Malcolm Starbrook told Journalism.co.uk.
The Newspaper Society has also welcomed the new code, highlighting the importance of ensuring the new rules are effectively enforced.
“We hope that all local authorities will be encouraged to use the local media, which remain the best-read and most trusted form of local news and information,” Lynne Anderson of the Newspaper Society said in a statement.
The National Union of Journalists, which had called for an independent review to establish the impact free council newspapers have on commercial titles, dismissed allegations of blame placed on local authority publications.
We reject the assertion – made by the Communities and Local Government Secretary, that local authority publications are responsible for the decline in local newspaper sales. We believe that attempts to maintain profit margins by cutting overheads, rather than by investing in quality journalism lies at the heart of the current decline in circulation amongst many local and regional newspapers.
The union also pointed out that some commercial newspaper groups such as Trinity Mirror have “lucrative printing contacts” for several London borough publications.
The NUJ does not recognise the Communities and Local Government Secretary’s description of biased, politically motivated local government publications, lacking editorial integrity, which he claims are so prevalent. The day-to-day reality for journalistic staff working on these publications is one of habitual struggles to resist attempts by local authority cabinet members and chief executives to dictate content. Indeed, NUJ members working in Press and PR – both in and outside of local authorities, are bound by both defamation law and the union’s ethical code.