"I want our news to be told and sold under the masthead of an independent and free press, not through a knock-off Rolex imitation" Eric Pickles, Communities Secretary
Following on from last week's Newspaper Society survey that showed how local councils manipulate and bully the local media, and restrict information (see previous Salford Star article click here), the Government's Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles, is bringing in legislation aimed at `stopping councils from publishing regular 'Pravda-style' free-sheets which threaten local newspapers and waste taxpayers' money printing up town hall propaganda'.
The new legislation in the proposed Local Audit and Accountability Bill will limit publication of council publications to four times a year, "obliging councils to be cost effective and objective in any publicity material they publish".
In a withering criticism of the mags, Pickles says "The spread of the Town Hall 'Pravda' is manifestly unfair because they offer cut price local news, but mixed in with council propaganda that pours taxpayers money down the drain.
"These free-sheets are often confused for the real thing by residents" he adds "I want our news to be told and sold under the masthead of an independent and free press, not through a knock-off Rolex imitation."
Salford Council is aiming to get round the new laws by re-launching its Life In Salford magazine in June as a quarterly magazine, with partners City West Housing, Salford City College, University of Salford, Salford Clinical Commissioning Group and Urban Vision all stuffing money into it.
Back in April, community groups in Salford were asked to submit short articles for the mag. "Open to any non-profit making group", an e-mail to community groups asked for short articles on things like events, meetings and "requests for volunteers".
The Salford Star, a local `non-profit making community group' is always looking for volunteers, so we submitted a fifty word gentle article `requesting volunteers'. Yesterday we discovered that the article would not be included – with no explanation.
"We can only assume censorship" says Stephen Kingston, editor of Salford Star "Which is incredible because, before Lisa Stone - who now heads up the Life In Salford project - became a councillor and Assistant Mayor for Communication, she was only too willing to get the Salford Star to write features on her projects. How power corrupts.
"Before Life In Salford hits the cat litter tray" he adds "we hope Salford people will understand that what they are reading is pure biased propaganda, giving only one viewpoint on behalf of Salford Council, City West Housing, Salford City College, University of Salford, Salford Clinical Commissioning Group and Urban Vision – even though we are all paying for it."
Last time Life In Salford hit the headlines was a few years ago, when Lib Dem councillor, Steve Cooke, resigned from its editorial board calling it a "an often misleading and relentlessly and unjustifiably upbeat publication" and a "propaganda vehicle for the cabinet".
Indeed, the last issue of the `politically neutral' Life featured City Mayor Ian Stewart on the cover.
"Together with Life In Salford, every single so-called `community' media in the city is totally uncritical of Salford Council and never holds it up to account in any way, which is probably why they get public funding" says Stephen Kingston "The whole notion of a free press in Salford has taken so many steps back that it's fallen off the cliff of democracy."
With Salford Council routinely tearing up Freedom of Information requests from Salford Star and refusing the publication's legal right to see accounts, the Salford Star will be responding in its own way tomorrow…
UPDATE: 23rd May - Salford Star Goes On Strike - click here
See previous Salford Star articles on Life In Salford…
Salford Council Mad Mag Costs – click here
Salford Star Evidence To Parliamentary Culture, Media and Sport Committee – click here
The Pravda Factor – click here
Salford Star Wars - click here