Eric Pickles: “Putin would be proud” of Hackney propaganda

Russia's President Vladimir Putin looks on during his annual televised question-and-answer session i

Russia's President Vladimir Putin looks on during his annual televised question-and-answer session in Moscow, Russia - Credit: Photas/Tass Russia

They may not have invaded Crimea, but Hackney Council has been compared to Russian president Vladimir Putin by top Tory Eric Pickles.

Mr Pickles, the communities and local government secretary, has given the Labour-run borough an ultimatum to defend their council-published newsletter, ‘Hackney Today’, or face legal proceedings against the “Town Hall Pravdas”- a reference to Russian Communist newspapers issued by the Kremlin.

The Tory cabinet member said: “It is scandalous that bloggers have been handcuffed for tweeting from council meetings, whilst propaganda on the rates drives the free press out of business. Only Putin would be proud of a record like that.”

The controversial comparison to the Russian president comes at a time of international condemnation against Kremlin policies in Ukraine and towards homosexuality.

Mr Pickles added: “Localism needs robust and independent scrutiny by the press and public, and municipal state-produced newspapers suppress that. Town Hall Pravdas not only waste taxpayers’ money unnecessarily, they undermine free speech.”

The new Public Code for local authorities, passed in January, says that all publically-funded news letters printed by local authorities must be “objective, limited in frequency and represent value for money.”

But in the case of Hackney, the freesheet was discovered to be printed too often and in breach of the code.

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Town Hall has now been given a fortnight to defend their actions against the possibility of legal proceedings, and could face a court order demanding compliance.

Letters have been sent to London five councils- Greenwich, Hackney, Newham, Waltham Forest and Tower Hamlets.

Brentwood and Ongar MP added: “We have changed the law to protect the free speech of councillors. If councillors and political parties want to campaign and put out political literature, they are very welcome to do so, and it’s an important part of our democratic process. But they should be using their own money, rather than taxpayers.”

The Greenwich and Tower Hamlets’ papers were found to publish at least 50 times per year,

Waltham Forest’s newsletter is reported to cost the taxpayer more than £480,000 a year.