IT is absolutely right that local councils have direct lines of communication to their residents.
And there are now a host of ways in which that can happen – websites, social media, text messages, leaflet drops. Most of these methods are relatively low cost, particularly those that use new technology.
But whether councils producing their own newspapers is a good idea is a matter for huge debate.
I make no apologies for being a long-standing and vociferous opponent of council newspapers.
At best they are propaganda sheets, at worst they are town hall Pravdas – publications that masquerade as newspapers and sell advertising at discounted rates; using public money to undercut real newspapers.
Thankfully, the latter type of council newspaper does not exist outside of metropolitan areas and the UK Government is cracking down on them.
What council newspapers are not is impartial. They cannot possibly be. They give residents the council spin on council-related issues. There is no scrutiny, there are no challenges, no tough questions.
I don’t have a problem with that.
But to pretend otherwise is ludicrous.
Newport city council’s publication – Newport Matters – formed part of this week’s budget debate. The Tories wanted to get rid of it to save money. Labour defended its existence.
Let me be clear on one thing here. Council newspapers exist under all political leaderships. This isn’t a Labour versus Tory argument.
Indeed, I would suggest that if Newport’s Tories were so against Newport Matters they should have binned it when they were in power.
But some of the supporting statements for retaining the council newspaper were laughable.
One councillor said Newport Matters was ‘treasured’ by the people of Newport and that ‘everyone’ looks forward to it going through their doors. Seriously.
I’ll have a pint of whatever he’s drinking.
Here’s a true story about what people really think about council newspapers. I use Newport Matters as the example purely because I live in Newport – but it applies to all such publications.
I live in an apartment block. It contains 12 apartments. In the foyer there are 12 locked post boxes, one for each apartment. There is also an area to leave junk mail for cleaners to take away.
When Newport Matters is delivered the junk mail area contains 11 copies. One copy makes it from post box to apartment - and that’s mine because I have to read it for professional purposes.
If I’m wrong on this issue I’d be happy to admit it. Please contact me if you ‘treasure’ your council newspaper.
I know who does ‘treasure’ them – council leaders across the UK. I know of one leader who – in private – refers to his council’s newspaper as ‘my Pravda’.
All council newspapers should go. It would save the nation a fortune, free money for vital services, and seriously reduce recycling bills.