The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) has opened a consultation on putting into law guidelines introduced shortly after the creation of the coalition in 2010.
Among other issues, it could lead to a ceiling on the frequency of council-run news publications to four times a year – a guideline to which councils including Hackney and Tower Hamlets do not currently adhere.
David Holdstock, director of comms for the Local Government Association, called the moves ‘completely counter to the localism agenda’.
‘At a time when councils are having to make significant changes, more than ever now we need to be able to communicate effectively and regularly,’ he said.
‘Doing this through the prism of central Government will make things very difficult – councils know best how to communicate with their residents.’
The four-week consultation, Protecting the Independent Press from Unfair Competition, will run until 6 May.
At the launch of the consultation, Communities Secretary Eric Pickles – who has previously called council publications ‘town hall pravdas’ – said the move was to stop propaganda, which he labelled ‘a disgraceful misuse of public money’ and warned was damaging the free press.
The Newspaper Society has also backed the move, stating that advertising in council publications was having a negative impact on newspapers.
However, Holdstock countered that the Government was not looking ‘at the whole picture’, given that councils were spending an average of £105,000 a year to fulfil the legal requirement to advertise in a newspaper.