Welwyn Hatfield MP says no to ‘Pravda on the rates’

HARD-PRESSED local newspapers have won the backing of Welwyn Hatfield MP Grant Shapps, who spoke out over council-run “propaganda” papers.

Mr Shapps gave evidence at a Parliamentary select committee last week and praised the WHT’s and other local papers’ “independent-minded” approach.

The local government and housing minister pointed out that council newspapers could compete with, and threaten the future of local independent journalism – at the expense of the taxpayer.

At the meeting Mr Shapps said: “We simply can’t carry on having propaganda published on the rates.”

Last week he told the WHT: “In some parts of the country local newspapers are having a tough time with the recession and advertising is down.

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“We think they [local papers] are very important for local democracy, as with the Welwyn Hatfield Times, which is fiercely independent-minded.

“Everything possible should be done to keep that.

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“We’ve introduced a new statutory code to ensure that council’s can’t publish their own newspapers or magazines more than four times a year.”

Calling them “a town hall Pravda” after the Soviet Union’s state-run propaganda sheet, Mr Shapps added that council publications were also a “waste of taxpayers’ money”.

To illustrate his point he highlighted the example of Greewich Times – a weekly council paper in Greenwich, London – which reportedly costs recession-hit ratepayers a staggering �500,000 a year to produce.

“I think most residents would be pretty appalled to hear that half a million pounds is going to fund the local town hall Pravda,” he said.

The select committee’s report on the matter is due in January.

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