By Waithera Junghae
New powers which would allow the government to gag council newspapers are
unnecessary and reminiscent of Soviet style government according to the National Union of Journalists (NUJ).
The union claims the proposed measures could give Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government power to prevent councils using their newspapers to report controversial issues like local hospital closures or the HS2 rail link.
“The gagging of local council publications seems to fly in the face of the coalition’s purported support of localism,” said NUJ General Secretary Michelle Stanistreet. “There are adequate sanctions if these publications step out of line.”
Earlier this year Pickles criticised local council newspapers, saying they were a waste of money and dubbed them “Pravda-style” publications.
The NUJ’s Stanistreet said: “ Eric Pickles is pleased to sound off about what he calls town hall Pravdas, but it seems his plans to determine what these newspapers can print, if at all, smacks of Putinism.”
The Local Government Association (LGA) is also worried about the proposed new measures.
“Councils have a legitimate, local, democratic mandate,” said Sir Merrick Cockell, Chairman of the LGA. “To simply make it easier for government to ignore the views of communities is unacceptable, sets a dangerous precedent and will mean local areas and residents will suffer as a result.”
The LGA claims that discussion of issues including HS2, large housing developments and cuts to police and fire services could be banned under the proposals.