Media Lifeline: Local authority publications

Regional press owners have slammed these 'mini Pravdas' for taking ads away from them.

June 2009: Digital Britain, the Labour government's survey of the UK's media landscape, somewhat improbably contains one or two stabs at sound common sense. For instance, one recommendation is that the Audit Commission undertakes an inquiry into the prevalence of "local authorities taking paid advertising to support local authority information sheets" - and to gauge the impact of this practice on the regional press.

21 January 2010: Days before the report is released, the Trinity Mirror chief executive, Sly Bailey, speaking at the Oxford Media Convention, accuses the titles of being "mini Pravdas". She singles out Hammersmith and Fulham council's h&f news for particular contempt.

25 January 2010: But the report turns out to be a damp squib. Pointing out that it never had a remit to undertake a proper market survey in the first place, it concludes lamely that "the money being spent by councils (on publications) is not unreasonable", and argues that the main issue is whether or not the titles represent value for money. The Government, however, is thought to be toying with the idea of referring the matter to Ofcom.

March 2010: Now the Department of Culture, Media and Sport publishes the findings of a year-long investigation into the future of regional and local media. Its report says there are entirely valid arguments both for and against the existence of ad-supported local authority newspapers - but it concludes "there is a real problem" with many of these titles. This might best be addressed, it adds, by an Office of Fair Trading investigation.

September 2010: But under the new coalition, the Local Government Secretary, Eric Pickles, announces that councils will only be allowed to publish four times a year and will be barred from using their organs to endorse the quality of local services.

Fast forward ...

January 2011: But the new rules prove difficult to police - councils merely implement design tweaks and re-designate their regular newspapers as ad-funded public information mailshots. Then, as the new year dawns, Hammersmith and Fulham council seeks a judicial review. It argues that local and regional media owners, who've been continuing to trim their budgets, cannot be relied upon to provide adequate community news services.