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County Council pulls public notices from Northumberland paper


08 March 2017

SoE

A county council's decision to stop placing statutory notices in its local paper has been criticised as press censorship and putting local democracy at risk.

The decision by Northumberland County Council to stop placing notices in the Hexham Courant, the newspaper in its locality with the biggest circulation, has led to concern that communities across Tynedale are being kept in the dark over vital public information. 

The Courant, owned by the CN Group, reported that no public notices had been placed in its paper since December 2016 and that, instead, the local authority is currently placing the notices in the Northumberland Gazette, a newspaper based 50 miles away. The decision has been defended by the council's chief executive as a policy that has been adopted on a trial basis and an attempt to cut costs and maximise administrative efficiencies.

 

The decision to remove the notices from the Hexham Courant has been criticised by a local MP.  

It is a legal obligation of all local authorities to publish planning application notices in a local newspaper circulating in the locality of the site in question. Pressed by the Courant as to whether the Northumberland Gazette, which does not register itself as circulating in the Hexham postcode area, satisfied the legal olbligation, the Courant reported that the council had confirmed its intention to distribute free copies of the paper in two prominent locations in Hexham. 

Mr Opperman, MP for Hexham, has robustly criticised the decision and said that it was the job of a local newspaper to hold public servants to account. He added that any perception that the statutory notices had been removed from the Courant as punishment for unfavourable coverage of the council was "deeply worrying". 

He said: “I am very concerned by this shocking revelation. The county council must be transparent and accountable.

“I would remind the council’s leadership they are public servants, and as such accountable to the public.

“Local newspapers have a duty to inform people of what is happening in our government, in our local councils, in our schools, and on our streets.

“Even the perception they are being somehow punished for doing so by the council or anyone else is deeply worrying.

“Local independent newspapers are at the very heart of local democracy. Any attempt to subvert that would be unacceptable.”

Read the full story on the Hexham Courant here


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