In a submission to the department for communities and local government consultation on the Local Authority Publicity Code, which closed yesterday, the society said that evidence of the damage has been provided by local newspaper editors and publishers across the UK.
"Over the past years, the NS and its members have repeatedly raised the problem of local authorities' launch of newspapers and online audiovisual 'TV' services, often carrying third party advertising, in direct competition with the local independent media for the advertising and audience upon which it depends," the submission says.
"This trend has added to a growing culture of secrecy around local authority decision-making which makes it harder for local media to scrutinize the workings of local government. Our members have already given specific examples of the council publications and online services which threaten their titles and companies will be describing the local problems faced in their submissions to this consultation."
The consultation follows proposals published by the Department for Communities and Local Government last month detailing changes to the Local Authority Publicity Code.
Secretary of state for communities and local government, Eric Pickles has said earlier this year that he wants to "crack down" on council-funded newspapers, adding that council resources should be redirected into protecting front line services.
Pickles also said that all council publicity should be clearly branded material used to explain services and not to influence opinion and that a restriction on the frequency of publication to a quarterly period should be enforced.
In its submission this week, the Newspaper Society suggests a number of revisions to the draft code to ensure local authorities could not continue to pursue print and online media services through third parties.
"The code should also prevent any attempt to evade its restrictions through pursuit of indirect rather than direct controls over the publicity vehicle e.g. by way of partnerships or contract publishing or third party publication," the submission adds.
"The code and our proposals would certainly not prevent local authorities from providing their communities with information relevant to them, the council and its work in any effective form. The NS has always made it clear that it has no complaint with the traditional type of non-competing council publication, such as an A-Z of council services, published two or three times a year ... The NS and its members have also provided the Government with examples of local councils and local media working together on initiatives to inform and involve their local communities."
The submission also outlines the society's opposition to any move to remove statutory obligations to publish public notices in local newspapers. It claims this could result in "important information becoming inaccessible to a large section of the UK population who do not have access to the internet".
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