Town hall ready to take government to court in row over propaganda freesheet Hackney Today

Hackney Today, the town hall's freesheet.

Hackney Today, the town hall's freesheet. - Credit: Archant

Embattled Hackney Council wants to take the government to court to defend its right to publish its propaganda rag fortnightly.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) has repeatedly told the town hall to cut back its publication of Hackney Today to four issues a year, with the latest threat of court action coming in April.

Sajid Javid, then communities secretary, said the freesheet – which cost the townhall £446,000 to print last year – was competing for ad revenue with papers such as the Gazette and Hackney Citizen.

But the council has continued to dig its heels in. Chiefs say scaling back publication would cost upwards of £100,000 because it would have to put its statutory notices – which it has to publish every two weeks – in the Gazette. Most other councils do publish the notices in local papers.

Cabinet members have now been urged to sign off plans to launch a judicial review should the government carry out its threat. It would likely co-operate with Waltham Forest, another council flouting the guidelines, which signed off a similar challenge last week.

In a report published ahead of Monday’s meeting, the council argues neither the Gazette or the Citizen can compete with its reach of 106,000 copies.

Obviously, if it followed its orders and subsequently did place its notices in the Gazette, this paper, which holds it to account, would be able to print a lot more copies.

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Hackney mayor Phil Glanville also said there “is, and never has been, any hard evidence” to show local press is damaged by council newspapers.

Mr Glanville, who has previously stated how much he “values, enjoys and loves” Hackney’s two papers, said: “Local media has been suffering for years, from a combination of factors, including the digital revolution, wholesale change in the way people consume news, and sustained underinvestment in local titles by newspaper groups.

“Across the country, local papers are closing, and the government’s war on council newspapers has done nothing to reverse this trend.”

Mr Glanville claimed it was vital to keep sending out the freesheet due to “digital exclusion”, which he said was linked to poverty, disability and other disadvantaged groups.

“Providing equal access to information is fundamental to [tackling inequality],” he said. “And everything the government has suggested would be a very poor substitute for that which we currently provide.”