The Newspaper Society claims today an audit of local authority publications across the country shows councils are publishing their own newspapers, many of which compete aggressively with independent local media for readers and advertisers.
It says: "Councils have long published useful newsletters or guides to services, but the industry’s concern centres on the more frequent publications – monthly, fortnightly or weekly council newspapers or magazines (such as East End Life, H&F News, East Riding News) – as well as those websites and broadcast services (such as Kent TV) which compete for readers and advertisers with independent local media."
The NS reveals that council title Hackney Today’s media pack says it offers the “largest reach in the borough of any local paper” and takes “all sorts of advertisements including statutory notices and recruitment” at “extremely competitive rates”.
And H&F News (distributed in the London boroughs of Hammersmith and Fulham) claims it has “more than double the readers of our nearest competitor” and quotes readership statistics from a survey undertaken by a commercial research company on behalf of Westminster City Council.
"Many of the council newspapers are laid out in a similar format to local newspapers meaning they are not easily distinguishable form independent press, as the mix of council and independent titles’ mastheads in this story illustrates," says the NS.
The NS audit of 436 local authorities across the UK found that many councils are publishing their own newspapers and many have names similar to those of independent local newspapers or are laid out to appear the same.
In a submission to a consultation on the Publicity Code for local authorities last month, the NS highlighted the government’s encouragement of ‘commercial’ local authority media offerings and says that council services which compete directly with local media for audience and advertising should be prohibited.
The NS has called for changes to the Code to include a requirement that market impact tests be conducted before local authorities are allowed to launch new publications or media services.