£1m council newspapers: Welsh government to review code
Published: 30th Jul 2012 07:53:28
The code allowing Welsh councils to produce free newspapers is to be reviewed, as figures show more than £1m is spent on publishing them each year.
Local paid-for newspapers claim council freesheets are unfair competition.
Sixteen of the 22 councils spend £1m on their newspapers. Four have none, one publishes online, and figures were not available for the other one.
The Welsh Local Government Association says many find them useful and there is no evidence for the competition claim.
Publications being looked at are the ones delivered free by councils to householders at various points throughout the year.
The figures obtained by BBC Radio Wales show a wide variation in the number of editions produced each year, distribution numbers and the cost.
Ceredigion, Monmouthshire, Neath Port Talbot, and the Vale of Glamorgan do not produce a newspaper, whilst Pembrokeshire produces an online newsletter only.
They were initiated in the first place because central government required councils to locally publish performance information in a non-commercial local paper”
In Cardiff the Capital Times comes out 13 times a year. In Conwy the Conwy Bulletin, and on Anglesey the Newyddion Mon/Mon News, are sent out twice a year.
No figures were available from Merthyr council.
Seventeen local authorities produce their own papers, and BBC Wales figures were obtained from 16 of those which showed they spend just over £1m, covering everything including staffing, printing, distribution and translation.
Groups like the Newspaper Society say they are concerned council newspapers can be competing aggressively when it comes to advertising.
The newspaper industry magazine the Press Gazette has also warned that council freesheets are taking revenue away from independent local newspapers.
Linda Roberts, executive editor of the Caernarfon Herald and North Wales Weekly News series, told BBC Radio Wales that she would like to see councils putting their newsletters inside local newspapers, thereby supporting local businesses.
"A million pounds is an awful lot of money, especially when we are seeing councils making cuts in all kinds of things like care of the elderly, social services, leisure services," said Ms Roberts.
"I would also like to know what measures they have in place, that how many people are actually reading these newsletters and what reaction they are getting to them.
"I think the majority of them end up in the bin, to be honest."
There is no set way that advertising is used by Welsh authorities, however as some freesheets, such as Wrexham's Connect, use sponsorship and advertising to fund the whole thing, while others make no money on adverts.
The code dates back to 2001 and gives guidance on everything from content and style to advertising.
In England, UK Communities Secretary Eric Pickles wants to ban local councils from publishing newspapers more than four times a year.
The Welsh government has said it will review the code during this assembly term, but it is understood that Local Government Minister Carl Sargeant, will not going as far as his English counterpart.
The Welsh Local Government Association said many council taxpayers found the papers useful.
It pointed to a recent parliamentary committee report which said there was no evidence that the publication were competing with traditional newspapers in any way.
"Indeed they were initiated in the first place because central government required councils to locally publish performance information in a non-commercial local paper," it added.
Source: Freedom of Information Act
NO. OF EDITIONS
2 or 3
Has never published a newspaper
Isle of Anglesey
Newspaper ended 2008
Neath Port Talbot
Newspaper ended 2011
5.177 online subscribers
Rhondda Cynon Taf
Vale of Glamorgan
Newspaper ended 2010
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Harvard CitationBBC News, 2012. £1m council newspapers: Welsh government to review code [Online] (Updated 30th Jul 2012)
Available at: http://www.ukwirednews.com/news/1443389/1m-council-newspapers-Welsh-government-to-review-code [Accessed 2nd Sep 2014]
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