Council to boost propaganda budget

Nearly half a million to be spent on Around Ealing magazine

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Ealing Council is proposing a significant upgrade to their magazine, Around Ealing. The budget for the publication will increase to nearly £500,000 with much of the extra cost being funded out of the controversial 'Response' programme. The aim, according to the report which accompanies the proposal, is to "play a major role in promoting new service arrangements (Response programme), and help build a positive reputation". Ealing Council have recently been rated weak by the Audit Commission and the negative impact was compounded when an unsuccessful attempt to have the decision overturned ended up costing £350,000.

The move would mean that the Council moves as much of its publicity spending away from the local media. A substantial amount of this goes to the Ealing Gazette which has been critical of the Council over issues such as the £50 million Response Programme and the West London Tram. It is believed by some that the real objective of the plan is to punish the Gazette, which is published by the Trinity Mirror group, for its often hostile editorial line.

Ealing Council recently consulted on a Draft Statement of Community Involvement which outlined their plans for the publication of planning notices in the borough. Despite the Neighbour Net group being the largest network of on-line local community portals in Europe there was no mention of any of the sites in the draft document. Although Neighbour Net sites do not take an editorial position it is believed that the sites are unpopular with senior councillors at Ealing because of the critical comments of residents on the area discussion forums. The expansion of Around Ealing will mean that the Council is going into direct competition with the sites.

A spokesperson for Neighbour Net which publishes this site said, "We are confident that our revenues from the commercial sector will not be affected by this new competitor despite the heavy subsidy it will receive. However, it is likely that this move will effectively cut off any prospect of meaningful revenue from local government which is the biggest spender on local advertising. The move calls into question the viability of sites like where the scope for growing commercial advertising is more limited. It is hard to interpret the plan as anything other than an attempt to suppress independent media in the Borough."

The proposal would mean that the magazine would be published monthly from the end of this year as opposed to quarterly using better quality paper and print to enhance the Council's image. Consideration would be given to fortnightly publication in the future. Ealing Council claim that research by MORI shows that 'residents' publications' are amongst the most preferred channels of council communications.

The current budget for Around Ealing is £82,000 a year but the cost of the magazine will rise to £457,000 with £120,000 for staff/consultant costs. It is envisaged that the publication would be generating sufficient income to cover its costs by 2007/8 however other Council propaganda magazines have consistently failed to attract advertising from outside the public sector and needed further funding from Council Tax payers.

The proposal is to be discussed at the Council Meeting to take place on Tuesday 18th October.

October 11, 2005