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News / 5 February, 2014

Council ‘Pravda’ Hackney Today operating at loss

Town Hall says printing freesheet still makes financial sense due to ‘absurd’ government rules

Hackney Today Hackney Citizen Town Hall

Under fire: But Hackney Council says if it ceased publishing Hackney Today it would have to spend more, not less, on communications. Photograph: Claude Crommelin

Hackney Council-run newspaper Hackney Today is operating at a loss.

Comparison of the fortnightly, taxpayer-funded publication’s production costs with income it has generated shows Hackney Today made a loss of over £160,000 in the last three years.

Mustafa Korel, who is standing as an independent candidate for Mayor of Hackney in May’s local elections, obtained the figures via a Freedom of Information request.

He accused the council of “defending a publication that has haemorrhaged much needed money for our borough”.

He added: “This is our money that they are splashing out on another one of the Mayor’s vanity projects.”

Hackney Council insists publishing Hackney Today still makes sound financial sense as it means the Town Hall can discharge its statutory duty to advertise consultations and public notices more cheaply than by placing adverts in a commercial newspaper.

Councils are obliged to publish public notices in a newspaper that comes out at least fortnightly, as does Hackney Today.

But the newspaper – branded a ‘Pravda’ by opponents after the infamous mouthpiece of Communist-era Russia – could soon be forced to trim its publication schedule under plans by Conservative Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Eric Pickles which have the support of some commercial papers.

A council spokesperson said: “Hackney Council has stated very clearly on many occasions that whilst the government holds in place the absurd and outdated laws that require councils to place statutory advertising in a printed newspaper, producing Hackney Today on a fortnightly basis remains the cheapest way for the council to meet its legal advertising requirements and get vital service information to residents.

“Ministers have been repeatedly told that fortnightly publication would cease as soon as this requirement is lifted.

“Our financial arguments for the production of Hackney Today have been scrutinised by the District Auditor.

“The fact is, if Hackney Today ceased publication, the council would need to spend more, rather than less on communications and advertising. Mr Korel is very welcome to come in and meet with council officers if he wishes to discuss his concerns further.”

Taxpayer-funded Town Hall newspapers have been a focus of ire from politicians on all sides of the political spectrum.

Labour, which runs Hackney Council, has criticised Tower Hamlets’ publication East End Life as a waste of public funds, while the Liberal Democrats have said that Hackney Council’s bankrolling of Hackney Today amounts to “using a much needed half a million pounds of public money for political purposes”.

The Hackney Citizen understands that when Hackney Today was first launched the council had hoped advertising revenue from the publication would have led to it making a surplus but that the newspaper’s pursuit of advertising revenue has become less aggressive over time.

Though Hackney Today does run stories on council business and important consultations, it has been criticised for editorial selectivity.

In 2007, for example,  it ran a front page story stating that all council properties were being run on environmentally-friendly power from renewables.

Two years later, when the council did a U-turn and reverted to buying ‘brown’ energy from non-renewables like coal, Hackney Today did not report the change.

Related:

Lib Dems threaten legal action over Hackney Today ‘propaganda rag

/ 5 February, 2014
  • Cllr Abraham Jacobson

    Shock Horror.

    So we have been lied to all along. We were told that there is zero cost to Council Tax payers!

    I suppose all the pages of Labour spin is done pro bono by some secret benefactor of Hackney Council who just happens to have the right political slant.

    If the Hackney today was only about statutory duties a publication without the spin could be done for a fraction of the price to be inserted in a local paper.

    One BIG problem is that Hackney Labour will be unable to have full editorial control and will be unable to peddle their lies to local residents.

  • Hackney Lib Dems did an analysis of Hackney today’s figures in 2011 using the 2009/10 accounts.

    “Hackney Today” cost people in the borough then£532,068

    But just as important is the fact that by publishing their own paper the Council weakens local press by depriving it of £180,000 in advertising revenue for publishing statutory notices and in the region of (2009/10 figure) £154,000 in additional advertising revenue. That is over £330,000 taken out of the pockets of the local press.

    The Council does save money on publishing statutory notices. These would have to be in the Gazette. The price charged for an annual contract would have been about £180,000 – see above.

    Taking everyuthing into account thats about a £200,000 loss four years ago – more at todays prices. But the bad consequences to everybody are far more severe.

  • del

    It would be even more cost effective if they dropped the pretence of editorial content.

    I don’t expect that the “Today” would run an investigative piece into the planning dept, or the learning trust, or the drug rehab or anything really.

    Imagine if as tony points out above that the adverts supported some local journalism…

    ahhh…now I get it. the penny drops.

  • In Bed with Pickles

    An interesting aside. Eric Pickles, the Thatcherite Conservative Party agent who is behind the attack on local government “newspapers”, and the destruction of Labour Party councils where possible, was/is also the ‘Conservative Friends of Israel’ Parliamentary lobby group chairman’ and now ‘UK Envoy on Post-Holocaust Issues’.

    I suppose that buys him and the Conservative Party a lot of credit in certain quarters.

    Pickles was also behind ramping up the Conservatives attacks on trade unions by arguing they are making members support “hard left, anti-Israel” campaigns, seeking to change the rules so that union members have to opt in to donate to the political fund – a move that would cost Labour more than £5m annually.

    Part of a greater intervention to stop public sector bodies supporting boycotts and to stop charities engaging in lobbying. Ditto its attact on Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement attempting to forbid local governments from taking action against Israel for its violations of international law and the indiscriminate lethal actions of the Jewish state against innocent Palestinians.

    Pickles also bashes on at the project re-branding ‘anti-Zionism’ as ‘anti-Semitism’.

    (The BDS movement is a response to Israel’s confidence that it can act with impunity, which the majority of people in Hackney would support. Indeed, nationally, 43% of the British public seeing BDS as a reasonable response to Israel’s policies and only 13% opposed).

    I’ve never understood why the Borough’s Conservative councillors all come from the Hassidic community, a community that at least within itself is so communalistic (and anywhere from ‘neutral’ to ‘negative’ on the Zionist’s project).

    I appreciate that Cllr Jacobson is of the Liberal Dem alternative, so perhaps he could explain from an impartial point of view?

    All hardly issues that enter into Hackney Today’s editorical remit, but issues that exist as part of the greater context for what is going on politically.

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