Hundreds of people have signed a petition demanding a weekly newspaper apologises for running a front page wraparound promoting the Conservative Party as the row over the adverts rumbles on.
The Westmorland Gazette was one of many regional newspapers to run the wrap last week ahead of Thursday’s local elections, but has now come under fire from readers who have demanded a full front page apology and threatened to boycott the paper until it complies.
A number of editors have since come forward to defend the editorial neutrality of their titles following the advert’s publication – including Andy Parkes, Newsquest group managing editor for South London and Sussex, Jim Parker, Exeter Express & Echo editor, and Devon Live editor Patrick Phelvin.
The petition to Westmorland Gazette editor Andrew Thomas entitled ‘Stop political bias in the Westmorland Gazette’ has been set up by a reader known only as ‘Adrian P’, and had collected 882 signatures as of yesterday afternoon.
A description reads: “As regular readers of the Westmorland Gazette we are dismayed to see our community paper being misused for party political purposes.
“Whilst we would welcome balanced representation of all local candidates within the paper, we feel strongly that a front page advert for a single national party is not acceptable (especially when published on a polling day).
“We request that you publish a full front page apology in your next issue. Please note that many of us will be boycotting the paper until this occurs.”
Ahead of the 2015 General Election more than 1,200 campaigners called on the Eastbourne Herald and Hastings & St Leonards Observer to apologise for “prostituting” its front page after they publishes a wraparound promoting the Tories. The newspapers pledged a “full review” of their advertising policies afterwards.
On his personal blog, he wrote: “This is Theresa May’s officials effectively buying the integrity and independence of regional titles which has been hard-won over decades and centuries – for the equivalent of 30 pieces of silver.
“They know that many readers won’t see the ‘advertiser’s announcement’ caveat, but will believe the paper they rely on for an unbiased guide to life is suggesting they vote in a particular way.
“They know their message will be on display for several days on racks passed by thousands of people. And they know newspapers can’t afford to say no.”
On Twitter, Paul added: “I know it’s financial suicide for editors to reject – or try to persuade their MDs to reject – front page, wrap-style political advertising. But it doesn’t make it right.”
HTFP has asked the Westmorland Gazette for a comment.