The 8th April 2013 saw the Secretary of State, Eric Pickles, broadcast his aim to ‘legislate council publicity rules’ and prevent the abuse of taxpayers’ money with “political propaganda”. It follows a general air of concern held by the government over the politicisation of local government.The Code of Recommended Practice on Local Authority Publicity and Part 3 of the Communications Act 2003 currently explicitly prohibits the use of political advertising on television or radio media, yet for local press there is no clear ban.
The Widdicombe Report, published in 1986, was amongst the first investigations into the politicisation of local government. The report made several recommendations of which a few were eventually implemented. One of the recommendations was to prohibit any publicity that was designed to support any political party. This was later enforced by the Local Government Act 1986 via The Code of Recommended Practice on Local Authority Publicity.
A consultation on the controversial topic has begun and will consider how the new legislation should be structured to prevent this type of advertising.
Mr Pickles stated:
“Some councils are undermining the free press and wasting taxpayers’ money which should be spent carefully on the front line services that make a real difference to quality of life. It should not, under any circumstances, be used to fund political propaganda and town hall Pravdas and yet a hardcore minority of councils continue to ignore the rules despite public concern.
“The line in the sand is clear, publicity material straying into propaganda clearly crosses that line, and this legislation will stop this disgraceful misuse of public money, which damages local democracy and threatens an independent, free and vibrant local press.”
Although thus far there is no explicit prohibition on local government press, there has been a quick response for any advertisements seen on television or heard on the radio that could be promoting a political stance. Recently, Ofcom conducted a report into the political broadcasts of the Mayor of Tower Hamlets , Lutfur Rahman, and as a result 5 television channels banned the advertisement.
Should political campaigns be publicised in local authority press? How far should the restrictions go? Do restrictions help or hinder engagement and interest in local government?
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Partner and Head of Local Government