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Now a High Court judge tells council to stop publishing its illegal propaganda rag Hackney Today

PUBLISHED: 17:31 11 June 2019

Copies of Hackney Today at Hackney town hall. Picture: Emma Bartholomew

Copies of Hackney Today at Hackney town hall. Picture: Emma Bartholomew

Archant

A High Court judge has thrown out Hackney Council's legal bid to keep publishing its propaganda rag fortnightly - but it's not yet clear if it will fold.

The government has ordered the council to cut Hackney Today to quarterly five times in the past five years - but the council has continued breaching the Publicity Code throughout that time.

On Friday, a judicial review it launched against the local government secretary with Waltham Forest - the only other council flouting guidelines - was rejected.

The council, which is "considering its legal position", has not confirmed whether will cease publishing the freesheet which it claims is distributed to 108,000 homes every two weeks. But mayor Phil Glanville said: "Whatever happens, we will do our best to make sure that [residents] can continue to access the information they have received via Hackney Today for the last 20 years."

Likewise the DCLG has not confirmed what steps it will take if the council doesn't start complying with the rules.

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The council claims publishing its own paper has saved "tens of thousands of pounds by not having to pay to advertise statutory notices in the local press".

It has yet to answer Gazette questions about how much it has spent in legal fees since 2011. That was the year the Publicity Code was introduced, advising councils that "Town Hall Pravdas" should only be published quarterly so as not to damage the local press.

Last year Sajid Javid, then communities secretary, said the freesheet - which cost the town hall £446,000 to publish in 2017 - was competing for ad revenue with papers like the Gazette and Hackney Citizen.

The two councils argued there was no evidence town hall freesheets caused any detrimental impact to local papers, saying the public's changing reading habits and the shift towards the internet were instead to blame for the pressure on local news.

But the Honourable Mrs Justice Andrews said it was "difficult to see" how their frequent rate of publication would not compromise the aim of protecting the local press, which was "vital to a healthy democracy".

Mayor Phil Glanville said: "Forcing Hackney Today to publish just four times a year will not herald a return to some golden age of local newspapers - it will just mean less money for council services, and risks residents being less aware about what's going on in the borough, less aware of opportunities which could benefit them, and less aware of the fantastic diversity that makes Hackney so special."

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