Council's 'Pravda' shrouded in secrecy

John Phillips TOWN Hall claims of transparency and openness will be put to the test after council bosses failed to provide a breakdown of costs to produce their �250,000 taxpayer-funded newspaper. The Recorder is this week lodging Freedom of Information requests to

John Phillips

TOWN Hall claims of "transparency" and "openness" will be put to the test after council bosses failed to provide a breakdown of costs to produce their �250,000 taxpayer-funded newspaper.

The Recorder is this week lodging Freedom of Information requests to find out exactly how much will be spent staffing, printing and distributing the fortnightly freesheet The News from late May.

Another FoI submission will seek to force council chiefs to say how many people were consulted, what questions were asked, and what responses given as part of a November 2008 survey which the council said justified the launch of The News.


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The requests come after chief executive Rob Whiteman pledged the paper would provide "value for money" and have "editorial independence".

But retired media law lecturer Tony Richards, 72, likened The News - replacing the monthly council magazine The Citizen - to the defunct Russian propaganda newspaper Pravda.

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Mr Richards, of Wilmington Crescent, Barking, said: "The borough is plagued by political extremists: those of the extreme right - the BNP - and those of the extreme left, who want to set up a Pravda-type newspaper in this borough and destroy freedom of expression and democracy.

"The BNP by far remain the greater evil, but Labour is moving in that direction."

Barking and Dagenham Council failed to tell the Recorder what questions were asked and responses given as part of its "communications audit" supporting The News.

The council, which on its website says it "prides itself on openness and transparency", said: "The decision to make our publications community-focused followed extensive feedback given in focus groups during a communications audit in November 2008.

"The feedback also revealed that we needed to publish more often because the events, stories, reports and news were old by the time it hit the streets as the lead-in time for magazines is always weeks in advance.

"We want our readers to benefit from more current information and we could only do that by increasing the frequency of the publications we produce."

The Recorder's parent company, Archant, has written two letters to Mr Whiteman asking for details on the tendering process for publishing, printing and distribution of the product but has had no reply.

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