Free Sheet Free For All

Good ‘ol Greenslade has written a half decent post in Media Guardian, addressing the spineless response from the government concerning the regulation of local authority ‘information sheets’ (yeah, right…)

“The government may refer the publishing of newspapers by councils to the Office of Fair Trading to assess their impact on the regional and local commercial press. Or it may not.

Siôn Simon, the minister for creative industries, chose his words carefully yesterday when speaking about the possibility of an OFT reference.

After saying that he was awaiting the outcome of an Audit Commission investigation (which, incidentally, has dragged on for months), he said:

Once we have those conclusions, the next step will be to present that information to the Office of Fair Trading and ask it, perhaps with Ofcom, to consider the question of competition and the potential impact on the paid-for newspaper market.”

This is an issue that is particularly relevant down in the Rotten Borough of Lambeth. You may remember how South London Press publisher Tindle Newspapers reckons it has lost £500,000 in ad revenue since Lambeth Life hit the mean streets of South London. It still doesn’t stop the SLP from whoring ads from prostitutes though. Needs must, and all that.

And so it would seem that the free market is going to rule the roost over the battle between local councils and local media. If any conclusion can be drawn from the laissez faire attitude that allowed London Lite and thelondonpaper to punish each other with nightly knock out blows, then it’s that the quality of reporting suffers in the chase for increased profit and circulation.

This is the last thing that we need in the Rotten Borough right now, with a right wing Nu Labour administration privatising anything that moves, and not being held to account by traditional media.

Ironically we’re about to enter the period where Lambeth Life actually becomes a half decent read, rather than a cheap alternative for the cat litter tray. Reporting restrictions in the run up to an election period restrict the party in power from using their propaganda rag as an election mouthpiece.

So long to the Leader’s Column from @cllrstevereed:

“Making a difference on the things that matter most to you is what Lambeth Council is all about. We’re on a journey that’s seeing the council get better fast.”

Instead we have thoughtful and insightful columns penned by local community groups. Their lack of political agenda allows them to explain what is actually happening around the Rotten Borough, and unlike local politicians, how individuals with a passion for their little patch can actually make a real difference.

I haven’t received my copy of Lambeth Life since I last blogged about how bobbins it is. A quick PDF download, and I note that page 2 has a splash (aha!) all about the annual initiation ceremony of the Brockwell Icicles. Hurrah for promoting sport in the Rotten Borough. No mention of the current South London Swimming Schmozzle that will be the legacy of the Labour administration.

Elsewhere and I note that there is the usual gubbins, telling the good people of Lambeth what Thornton Heath councillor Lib Peck’s favourite TV programme is (“Doctor Who – who can resist David Tennant?“) as well as a bonkers full page interview with Peter Hook, that well known patron of the Rotten Borough (plugging his book, natch.)

@cllrstevereed justifies the propaganda sheet by stating that:

Lambeth Life is just about cost neutral, mainly funded by advertising. It should soon generate a profit helping keep Council Tax down.”

Which is fair enough, even though I can’t help thinking that if the publication is making profit, why should it be aligned to a local authority? You would have thought that Nu Labour in Lambeth would be keen to do their usual trick of maximising as much profit as possible out of local services.

The “keeping Council tax down” argument is lame. It’s not the role of a local authority to run a business in order to make profit to settle the public purse. What happens when the business hits on hard times?

Greenslade sums up by saying:

“How much evidence does the government need before it looks more closely at the impact of council papers? In June last year the Digital Britain report acknowledged the negative impact on independent local newspapers of local authority newspapers.

As far as I can see, nothing concrete is being done while everyone – Audit Commission, Ofcom, OFT and, of course, the government – pass the buck.”

Back in the Rotten Borough and this all means the green light is given to political apathy. Lambeth Life gets the go ahead for local councillors to swoon over Dr Who, and the South London Press is forced to continue to pimp out its pages to prostitutes.

Only in La La Lambeth Land…

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