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Magazine of the Chartered Institute of Journalists

What price democracy? Audit Commission can’t answer…so who will?



Release time: 30 July 2009

The Audit Commission’s inquiry into local authority newspapers, ordered by the Government in its Digital Britain report, will not include an examination of their effect on traditional local newspapers.

Steve Bundred, chairman of the Commission, told the Chartered Institute of Journalists that it does not have the expertise to examine that contentious area.

Dominic Cooper, general secretary of the Institute said: “Although Digital Britain has encouraged an assessment to determine the value-for-council taxpayers’ money of these publications, this is only part of the equation. These council newspapers and magazines are more cover-up than cover-all and rarely, if ever, report anything other than council propaganda. What effect these publications have on democracy is just as important as how much taxpayer’s money they waste.

“We have seen how they have affected the performance of traditional local newspapers – leaving the public without independent scrutiny of local authority actions.”

Mr Bundred told the Institute: “The Commission is the champion of value for money in local public spending, and regulator of local public services. We plan to carry out research that examines the value achieved by council spending on communicating with the public and allows us to spread good practice and make recommendations about improving value for money in this area. This research would include council newsletters and newspapers, income derived from these newspapers, and spending on recruitment advertising.

“The Commission’s role and expertise do not lend themselves to examining the health of local newspapers or isolating the impacts of specific local authority practices on commercial bodies. This element of Digital Britain invitation appears better suited to regulators with a specific competition remit.”

Mr Cooper said: “While we welcome the inquiry because we believe it will show the exceptionally poor value for money that taxpayers get – only last week a council publication in Cornwall closed after 11 months at a cost of £700,000 to taxpayers – but unless their overall effects are studied the question still remains: What price democracy?


For further information please contact:

Dominic Cooper: 020-7252-1187, or by e-mail at;

Robin Morgan: 01226-203778, or by e-mail at

Notes for Editors:

Formed in 1884, the Chartered Institute of Journalists (CIoJ) is the world’s oldest established professional body for journalists, and a representative voice of media and communications professionals throughout the UK and the Commonwealth.