Yesterday, Parliament passed its new Code of Recommended Practice on Local Authority Publicity which has guidelines stating that council run publications shouldn't appear more than four times a year.
The Code was passed by the House of Lords, after the House of Commons accepted it in an earlier vote (see here for full details). Local Government minister Baroness Hanham, introducing the Code to the Lords, said that while local authority publicity is important, "the freedom of the press is also important in providing information for the public to hold their local authority to account.
"It is equally important that readers of a newspaper can tell whether what they are reading is part of the independent press or a publication by the council setting out the council's message" she added, insisting that "unfair competition by taxpayer-funded local authority newspapers…can have a detrimental effect on commercial and local newspapers."
Last year, using figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, Salford Star showed how Life was costing Salford Council almost £28,000 per month (see Mad Mag Costs here). We also showed that far from claims by Salford City Council that Life was saving taxpayers money, it was actually losing money despite being stuffed full of its own paid adverts (see Salford Council Mag Deficit here).
As Life magazine has continued to be subsidised by public money, the Salford Advertiser has stopped distributing to thousands of homes in Salford, and Salford Star itself cannot afford to get back into print.
Local Government Secretary, Eric Pickles, responsible for the Code, describes council publications as "town hall Pravdas", while a select committee report in 2010, to which the Salford Star gave evidence, concluded that council mags are "completely unregulated" and should not be "a vehicle for political propaganda"(see Council Mags Slammed By House of Commons Committee here).
The Salford Star asked Salford Concil if it would be complying with the new Code and scaling Life back to a quarterly publication…
"We are aware of he government's recommendation and will be looking at how this will affect our distribution of Life In Salford" Council Leader, John Merry replied "We have very specific reasons for distributing this monthly, as it helps us to keep people living in Salford up to date with our services and what's happening in their city. Reverting to a quarterly publication will increase the amount we have to spend on advertising, notices and other communication methods to keep the public informed."
While the new Code is not legally binding, breaches will be reported to the District Auditor. Expect to see the end of Life as we know it…