THE News Media Association (NMA) is seeking assurances that the Government remains committed to stamping out “town hall Pravdas” after an apparent climbdown from pursuing legal action against two local authorities who persist with the publications.

Following reports last week that Government directions to Waltham Forest council and Hackney council to cease publishing their fortnightly newspapers with effect from 6 February 2018 have been withdrawn, the NMA wrote to Communities Secretary Sajid Javid.

Having campaigned long and hard against council newspapers, we are deeply concerned that the Government may be retreating from its clear position on closing down these publications, known as town hall Pravdas, which have been exposed as nothing more than pernicious propaganda and a waste of taxpayers’ money,” NMA deputy chief executive Lynne Anderson wrote.

All local authorities which flout the Publicity Code and use public funds to compete for scarce advertising revenues with independent local newspapers must be stopped or councils across the country which have complied with the Code will take this as a sign that they can re-launch their council newspapers with impunity.

It is clear that both councils have had ample opportunity to respond to the government. According to the directions issued in November, Hackney council had then made nine representations dating from April 2014 through to September 2017, while Waltham Forest council had made seven representations between April 2014 and October 2017.

Independent local newspapers are the only voices holding local authorities to account but they face tough economic conditions with many fighting for survival. We seek assurances that the Government will take swift legal action to stop Hackney, Waltham Forest and other remaining council newspapers to ensure that the undoubted progress which has been made to remove this blight on local democracy is not fatally undermined.”