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“Hackney Council has stated very clearly on many occasions that whilst the government holds in place the absurd and outdated laws that require councils to place statutory advertising in a printed newspaper, producing Hackney Today on a fortnightly basis remains the cheapest way for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.