Hackney’s mayor Philip Glanville does not deny his council is taking advertising revenue away from papers like the Hackney Citizen.
He responded to the editor’s call for the Town Hall to cease commercial competition with the local press, saying the Hackney Today freesheet published fortnightly and funded by taxpayers does not “aggressively” compete commercially with newspapers.
In an email sent via the council’s press office, which produces content for Hackney Today, Glanville accused editor Keith Magnum of changing his mind over the course of three years since 2013.
He insisted the council was justified in publishing Hackney Today fortnightly and selling display advertising, arguing it would take a hit financially if it did not act in this way.
Hackney Today is blamed for increasing the financial challenges facing independent local newspapers.
Tower Hamlets Council – which runs services in the most deprived borough in London – this year cut back publication of its freesheet, despite possible impacts on the public purse.
Glanville said: “Hackney Today is still by far the most popular source of information in Hackney about the council, other local services and national policy changes, especially amongst older people and those on lower incomes.
“Given the amount of change around housing, education and welfare reform it is more important than ever that this information reaches everyone in the borough.
“The advertising revenue it raises takes pressure off scant public resources, but the paper has always been run in a way that does not aggressively compete with other local titles. Most advertising revenue comes from partners such as the NHS, schools and colleges and housing associations who wish to take advantage of its borough wide door-to-door distribution.
“The council’s website sells advertising through a national network, and does not compete by taking ads from local business.
“Despite saying in 2013 that the Citizen had ‘never regarded Hackney Today as a competitor’ and that it was of ‘no particular concern’, its editor is now demanding that the council gives up between £100-£150k in external income each year, which would be a substantial loss to the public purse.
“We feel that Hackney Today and titles like the Citizen can co-exist and potentially work co-operatively and I would certainly be happy to meet with Mr Magnum to discuss that.”
Magnum, who founded the Hackney Citizen eight years ago, said: “Hackney Today may be the most popular source of information about the council, but it is difficult to measure this. It is also an easy argument for the council to make, given that it has at least ten times the circulation of any other printed news publication in the borough.
“Mayor Philip Glanville does not deny that Hackney Today sells advertising space to local businesses and therefore competes with newspapers like ours.
“As the mayor rightly points out, three years ago I said I did not regard Hackney Today as a competitor. But the commercial landscape for national, regional and local papers has changed significantly since then. Journalists are being laid off left, right and centre and newspapers are folding.
“The vast majority of London boroughs, including the most deprived borough – Tower Hamlets – manage without ad revenue from council freesheets.
“I have never denied the council has a right to communicate with local residents – this is about how that is funded.
“Hackney Council says the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) has actively encouraged councils to commercialise their websites. But the DCLG has also instructed local councils to cease publication of their freesheets.
“If the challenges for local newspapers are exacerbated further by local councils, it will have dire consequences for democracy.”