1st May 2009
By Alex Klaushofer
The Local Government Association has denied claims that councils are undermining the future of local journalism by bankrolling their own rivals to local newspapers.
The association conducted a study following criticisms of councils launching their own publications while local papers were struggling to attract advertising and readers.
Last month, Culture Secretary Andy Burnham told the Scarborough Evening News that local authorities were overstepping the mark in funding local media.
According to the survey, which was sent to all local authorities in England, four out of five councils produce six or fewer magazines a year, with 98% saying they published to inform residents about services rather than cover local news.
‘They are not newspapers. They are not competing with newspapers in terms of advertising or circulation, or promoting scrutiny of what other councils are doing,’ said Edward Welsh, the LGA’s director of media and campaigns.
One authority, the London Borough of Barking & Dagenham, defended its fortnightly free sheet, The News, to be launched at the end of next month.
A council spokesman said: ‘As a commercial profit-making operation, the [local papers] cannot reasonably expect the council to place advertisements and notices when this does not get the message across to many residents. The council will ensure editorial independence for The News.’
The LGA study was published in the same week as a government-hosted summit to address the crisis in local and regional journalism.
Burnham said: ‘There was a good deal of agreement among participants about the key issues. There is a pressing need for action if we are to maintain quality in local news.’
The ideas discussed would feed into Digital Britain, the government’s plan on how new technologies will affect communications, which was published in January, he added.
In March, the Commons’ culture, media and sport select committee launched an inquiry into the future of local and regional media. It is due to report in the autumn.