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New rules to limit 'town hall Pravdas'

The Government will today take action to curb the growth of so-called "town hall Pravdas", the in-house newspapers produced by local authorities from public funds and delivered for free through letter boxes.

Eric Pickles, the Communities Secretary, announced last night that new measures would prevent such publications from being produced more than four times a year. Some local authority newspapers are produced weekly. Mr Pickles also said proposals to prevent councils from spending public money on what he called "shadowy hired-gun lobbyists" from the private sector.

The crackdown on the publications represents a victory for local newspaper companies, who have complained they face unfair competition for local advertising revenue from their publicly funded rivals.

The Newspaper Society, which represents the local and regional press, had said: "The regional media industry is very concerned by the ever-increasing threat posed by local authorities' publications, websites and broadcast services, which purport to offer 'independent' local news and compete with local media for readers and advertising revenues.

"They do not focus upon the local authorities' core activities. Their objectivity must be highly questionable. Yet it is very difficult to mount any legal challenge."

Mr Pickles said he would be revising the Code of Recommended Practice on Local Authority Publicity. "The rules around council publicity have been too weak for too long allowing public money to be spent on frivolous town hall propaganda papers that have left many local newspapers looking over the abyss," he said.

The Government claims that local authorities which have closed publications have made significant cost savings.