Written evidence from Councillor Mark Loveday, Hammersmith & Fulham Borough Council (FLM 46)

 

Hammersmith & Fulham Council believes in a thriving and independent media. However, in parts of inner London there is simply no local media. Our two local newspapers (both owned by Trinity Mirror) are the Hammersmith & Fulham Chronicle and the Fulham Gazette series. They have a paid-for circulation of just 1,500 out of around 180,000 residents. This situation is not new. Their combined circulation has been in decline for many years (see below) and there is no evidence the decline owes anything to the Council publications.

Trinity Mirror does not invest in these publications - there is presently one part-time news reporter (based outside the borough) for both titles. The local titles are effectively wraparound editions of out of borough publications with only a few pages of local content.

In common with most large unitary authorities, the Council has distributed a regular free publication to residents for a number of years. Its predecessor, "Hfm Magazine" was launched by the then Council leader Cllr Andrew Slaughter (now Andrew Slaughter MP) in January 2004. The Council now produces "H&F News", a high quality fortnightly newspaper which accepts significant local advertising.

This is a highly cost-effective way of communicating with residents. We believe strongly that it is a good thing to raise advertising revenue to reduce the burden on local taxpayers. As a result, the cost of H&F News continues to fall - from 400k in its previous incarnation HfM magazine to less than 5,000 last year.

By contrast, the present paid for local newspapers would be poor value for money for taxpayers. A typical public notice placed in the Hammersmith & Fulham Chronicle would cost around 650 - equivalent to about 52 pence for every copy sold. The cost of placing that same public notice in H&F News is 478 - equating to 0.0062 pence per copy distributed.

It should also be remembered that there are statutory requirements for certain public notices to be published in newspapers which must circulate in the locality (e.g. planning and licensing notices). There is a legal risk for authorities once circulation falls to a low level.

We do not believe that local taxpayers have an appetite to revert to subsidising monopoly private newspaper owners - especially when the public shows little appetite to purchase their products.

H&F News has high readership[1] and high reader approval[2] because it is a product that residents enjoy reading.

It is worth noting that there are already many statutory restrictions governing local authority newspapers, both in content and commercial practices. The newspaper cannot make a profit[3], nor can it print anything that affects support for any political party[4].

The Council is proud of its newspaper. It is one of the most successful in the country - costing residents almost nothing and delivering a high quality product which meets local needs. If restrictions were placed on this, would central government step in to make up the shortfall? The answer is plainly, "no".


APPENDIX: NEWSPAPER CIRCULATION IN HAMMERSMITH & FULHAM[5]

 

 

Chronicle

Gazette

H&F News

Dec-00

3025

1060

 

Dec-01

2741

561

 

Jul-01

3017

441

 

Jun-02

2419

552

 

Jan-05

1593

*[6]

 

Dec-08

1343

443

75553

Jun-09

1257

351

76249

 

 

Note about witness

 

Mark Loveday is a barrister in private practice, and has been Cabinet Member for Strategy at LB Hammersmith & Fulham since May 2006. His previous experience includes work as a newspaper lawyer (Evening Standard, Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday and Today). He has a weekly column on legal issues in the Times every Friday.



[1] 63% of residents read H&F News, according to the 2009 Media & Reputation Survey

[2] 81% of readers say H&F News is informative, according to the 2009 Media & Reputation Survey

[3] s.93 of the Local Government Act 2003

[4] s.2 of the Local Government Act 1986

[5] Based on ABC audited circulation figures

[6] Between 2003 and 2008 newspapers were not required to disclose the circulation of individual titles.