It puts the union firmly at odds with regional newspaper publishers who have campaigned strongly against council publications as unfair competition to the local press.
The union’s criticism came as Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Eric Pickles revealed the revised Code of Recommended Practice on Local Authority Publicity.
The revised code includes a ban on local authority newspapers being published more often than four times a year. The rules also stipulate that council advertising should not be politicised or a commentary on 'contentious areas of public policy'.
The new code comes despite a Commons' Communities and Local Government Select Committee report last month suggesting there was little evidence council papers compete unfairly with the local press.
NUJ general secretary Jeremy Dear said: “Today’s announcement is undemocratic and perverse and shows what a sham the consultation really was. The committee found no evidence to back up Eric Pickles’ wild assertions. It called for a fair and independent assessment of the impact of such publications on local newspapers. Eric Pickles has chosen not to deal with the facts but to display gross ignorance and bias”.
The revised Code of Recommended Practice on Local Authority Publicity includes seven new central principles "that make sure that council publicity is lawful, cost effective, objective, even handed and appropriate, and that it has regard to equality and diversity and is issued with care during periods of heightened sensitivity", according to the Department for Communities and Local Government.
In particular, the new rules would define 'appropriate use of publicity' in relation to council newspapers and use of lobbyists:
- Advertising should be balanced, factually accurate and not likely to be perceived by the public as a political statement or a commentary on contentious areas of public policy.
- Councils should not publish newspapers in direct competition to local press. They should not appear more than quarterly and should only include material directly related to local services.
- Councils should not spend taxpayers' money to lobby government through private sector lobbyists or through publicity stalls at party conferences.