Council Publications a 'Threat to Democracy'
MPs urge councils to support local media, not compete with it
MP Ed Balls has spoken out on Councils that 'undermine local media outlets by trying to compete for readers and advertising revenue with their own publications and websites.
At the conference, the Newspaper Society criticised councils that are, 'increasingly seeking to supplant the role of local newspapers by producing publications and websites offering ‘independent’ local news and competing head-to-head with local media companies for third party advertising revenues'.
The Society warned that in some areas such moves could result in a council publication becoming the only source of local news and posing a threat to democracy.
Ealing has seen its first casualty with the Ealing Times folding recently. Trinity Mirror, who publish the Ealing Gazette (and its free sister-paper the Ealing Leader) have cut many jobs and centralised journalists and photographers who cover a huge area, including Surrey, Buckinghamshire, and north, south, east and west London.
On its website, Ealing Council claims its publication Around Ealing is circulated to 'seven times more readers than any other single local publication'.
Around Ealing's advertising rates for businesses, local or otherwise, start at £300 for an eighth page one off advert, rising to £2100 for a single back cover advertisement.
Basic listings on EalingToday, ActonW3.com, ShepherdsbushW12.com, and HammersmithToday.co.uk are free for local businesses. Enhanced listings of up to 75 words plus a picture or logo are available for six months at £40 plus VAT or £75 plus VAT for the year.
The most expensive package on the EalingToday local news website is less than 10% of what it costs to advertise on the back page of Around Ealing.
"'The strong message from the centre of government is that all ministers should make sure they’re doing everything they can to support regional media,' which is 'well-read and trusted…and provides a vital service."
Regional media are: "the most trusted source of advice and information on what’s going on in local communities," he added.
Andy Slaughter MP has also since spoken out on the issue at the House of Commons, highlighting the role Council publications have played in the collapse of local press.
"[Local Authority publications] provide desperately unfair competition. Local authorities have huge resources with which to pay the hidden costs. They pay two or three times the amount to the journalist, and their terms and conditions are marvellous compared with those of the local press. All the costs of distribution, overheads and so forth are hidden. We are talking about hundreds, if not millions, of pounds of expenditure on promotional activity of such a kind. That is bad."
January 23, 2009