A consultation published today by the communities and local government department outlines new proposals to tighten up the publicity rules for councils prevent public funds being used for campaigning.
At the Oxford Media Convention in January this year Trinity Mirror chief executive Sly Bailey referred to council publications as mini "Pravdas" – a reference to the communist papers in the Soviet Union.
Today, Georgina Harvey, managing director, Trinity Mirror Regionals, said: "We have long been campaigning against council publications that masquerade as independent newspapers and which threaten the survival of local democracy, freedom of speech and the future of the local press."
The new rules will prevent councils from publishing newspapers more than four times a month and from hiring lobbyists and offer guidelines on exhibition stands at party conferences to prevent the taxpayer-funded lobbying of politicians.
David Newell, director of the regional newspapers' trade body the Newspaper Society, said: "Local newspapers fulfil a vital democratic role so it is encouraging to see the government pressing ahead with its commitment to crack down on competing local authority media platforms."
Eric Pickles, secretary of state for communities and local government, said: "An independent local press is an essential part of our open democracy helping local people scrutinise and hold elected councillors to account.
"The rules around council publicity have been too weak for too long allowing public money to be spent on wasteful town hall papers that have left many local newspapers looking over the abyss.
"The proposals I am publishing today will close off these inappropriate practices and encourage councils to focus taxpayers' money on where it should be spent – protecting frontline services."
Pickles emphasised that he believes the assumption should be that all council publicity would be clearly branded material, issued solely to explain services, and not to influence opinion.
This article was first published on mediaweek.co.uk