During the Richmond Park by-election, the Lib Dems put out a fake newspaper, the “Richmond and Kingston Gazette” – with articles by the “Senior Gazette Reporter” extolling the virtues of the Lib Dem candidate. Vintage dishonest campaigning from that party. But at least the Lib Dems paid for the printing.
What of those councils that produce propaganda and leave the Council Taxpayer to pick up the bill?
Marcus Jones, the Communities Minister, says:
“Councils shouldn’t undermine local democracy by publishing their own newsletters, more often than quarterly. I’m offering the small number that aren’t playing by the rules this last chance to put their publishing houses in order or I will use my powers to require them to do so.”
The vast majority of councils accept the Publicity Code rules on this. Luton and Tower Hamlets are among those who have recently fallen into line.
But a small number continue to flout the Code. The DCLG says:
“There are still a small minority of councils not playing by the rules who are in non-compliance with the Code. The London Borough of Hackney, the London Borough of Newham, and the London Borough of Waltham Forest, are currently publishing their respective newsletters on a fortnightly basis.”
The offending councils now face legal action if they continue to break the rules.
There is also a new measure intended to boost independent newspapers which have such an important role to play in local democracies. At their best, they provide scrutiny over those exercising power over us and spending our money. It has been confirmed that there will be £1,500 business rates discount for office space occupied.
Of course local papers also face (very welcome) competition from citizen bloggers and tweeters. Also we no longer rely on the printed page for information about neighbourhood shops and services. So the climate for local papers will remain “challenging”. All the more reason why they should not suffer from subsidised, fake municipal competitors.