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Readers demand apology from weekly over Tory front page wrap

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.

Westmorland May

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.

University of Gloucestershire journalism lecturer and former Bath Chronicle deputy editor Paul Wiltshire has predicted more of the wraps will appear ahead of 8 June.

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.

18 comments

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  • May 9, 2017 at 8:09 am
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    To those editors and commercial chiefs who believed/claimed/thought/hoped/ prayed ( delete as applicable) their readers, seeing a party political message plastered all over their paper in the guise of a 4 page wrap, wouldn’t see this as political bias …. here’s the proof that you were sadly mistaken.

    This will come as no surprise to anyone else that when a papers integrity is sold to the highest bidder,particularly on a polling day, the temporary blip in the ad revenues this has given will be far outweighed by the costly damage to the credibility, reputation and good will to the paper long term .

    Ad revenues are at all time lows but the decision to sell a wrap to whoever will buy one at any price comes at a price and at a time when ailing regional papers can I’ll afford to pay it.

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  • May 9, 2017 at 8:51 am
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    hands up if you didn’t see this reader fall out coming?any one?
    Just a few editors too afraid to turn a political wrap and its associated revenue down maybe?
    Or an ad rep whose only interest is booking an advert and hitting a target but who wouldn’t care less about repercussions for the paper?
    How many commenters on HTFP pointed this obvious own goal out yesterday after one or two editors tried to back track and defend their ‘flog it to the highest bidder/ soul for sale’ policy of carrying party political wraps around the papers they were responsible for.

    Then today TMs Dave Higgerson felt the need to brush it aside as a mere non story and attempts to convince us it proves regional paper advertising is effective! “….Does it challenge the independence of newspapers? No. Does it represent newspapers ‘selling their soul’ ….. No. Is it a good sign that a political party, …..are looking at us as a way to communicate with voters once again? I would argue yes…”
    Majority of people would argue no

    At least after this latest bad decision making,get rich quick scheme followed by a swift damage limitation excercise we know who has their finger on the pulse in the indusrty and those who are really out of touch or in denial .

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  • May 9, 2017 at 11:03 am
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    I just detest wrap arounds. Front page political ones should be banned in an election because, no matter what some editors might say, they can mislead the readers into thinking that the paper is openly supporting one party over another. By all means have the ads in the body of the paper but not as a wrap around.

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  • May 9, 2017 at 11:19 am
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    Two wrongs don’t make a right. The wraparound is highly questionable, but it certainly isn’t illegal, and it is every news organisation’s right to take advertising that meets the normal regulatory criteria. People are entitled to their opinions, but a petition organised by an anonymous individual is not going to get off the starting blocks. In any case, it flies in the face of freedom of expression which, by the way, applies equally to people whose views you may not share.

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  • May 9, 2017 at 11:20 am
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    I might add that perhaps the Westmorland Gazette should take heart from the strength of the reaction. At a time when many local newspapers have become irrelevant, these people at least think it’s worth mounting a campaign, albeit a misguided one.

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  • May 9, 2017 at 11:29 am
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    The last time I saw it, the Westermorland Gazette a reassuringly old-fashioned community paper with reasonably comprehensive coverage, far better than most of its equivalent publications. It also covers an area with a Lib MP, Tim Farron. The decision to publish this wrap around is ridiculous.

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  • May 9, 2017 at 11:57 am
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    Just confirms that far too many local papers are not bothered about readers and the community despite their pious announcements. Just the bottom line. Money.

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  • May 9, 2017 at 12:25 pm
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    If all the complainants chip in, they can BUY their own front-page wrap-around apology. Just saying …

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  • May 9, 2017 at 12:49 pm
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    I wonder,after this latest own goal, how many pre election crisis meetings there will be across the regional press to agree a policy with regard to party political wraps in the lead up to the general election?
    No doubt some editors will raise a ‘slight concern’ but be too afraid of upsetting the apple cart to make a stand when across the table will be ad managers who will only see quick and easy money to be had which will sway the company’s decision regardless of the after effects.

    Oh for the days of proper editors fighting for the integrity and credibility of their paper rather than doing what the commercial boys tell them to then having to defend publicly what they know to be a bad policy decision.

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  • May 9, 2017 at 2:33 pm
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    I wonder how many of those who complained/signed the petition are actual, regular readers of the papers in question.

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  • May 9, 2017 at 5:56 pm
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    I don’t understand why everyone thinks local newspapers are duty bound to be politically neutral. Every reporter, news editor, editor and MD is biased one way or another. They just pretend not to admit it.

    If a local paper wants to nail its colours to the mast, it can do so if its editor or MD chooses. No one has a problem with the bias of the nationals! In fact, it would be more shocking if The Guardian ran a Tory wraparound or the Daily Mail ran one for Labour or the Greens.

    You never know, with the expected landslide for the Tories this might even help to gain some readers in the short term! Let’s face it, they can hardly drop off any quicker!

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  • May 10, 2017 at 12:00 am
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    Here we go again. Who organised the petition? concerned reader or left wingers aiming to take their slice? Keep advertising in local papers or all democracy dies. Local papers are commercial beasts and journalists can only question if they are employed!!

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  • May 10, 2017 at 8:13 am
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    ‘Handcart taxis? I’d like to go to hell please’

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  • May 10, 2017 at 9:49 am
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    Oliver
    The papers carrying the cover wraps have most certainly nailed their colours to the mast whether it’s been intentional or not in the eyes of many of their readers who won’t differentiate between a paid for advertorial or a papers own ‘biased’ news piece.
    Hiding behind the ‘ it’s ok as it says advertisers announcement on it’ is a poor response to glady taking the money on offer irregardless of how that paper wil be seen by doing so.
    It appears the price of a publishers integrity is whatever the advertiser is prepared to pay

    And Liz justice you’re missing the point
    It’s not about which particular political party is advertising, nor that papers accept party advertising within the paper, that’s fine if they see it to be an effective platform on which to reach voters as this will indeed help to pay wages , it’s about them being allowed to take over the whole four covers of the entire weeks issue under the banner of the papers own masthead,particularly in the days leading up to polling day, editors shouldn’t be surprised if many readers then feel this is the paper declaring its own political stance.
    When times are bad, copy sales are falling,ad revenues have collapsed and money’s on offer all thoughts of credibility goes out the window.
    Just don’t try to pass it off as anything other than that

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  • May 10, 2017 at 1:22 pm
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    Oliver. Unless you work for some awful rag like the Daily Mail it is perfectly possible to write politically neutral and balanced copy, although no doubt there have been editors who have, shall we say, helped out their local MP or council , for whatever reason.

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  • May 10, 2017 at 3:34 pm
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    Paperboy, to write good copy requires an understanding of the subject. If you understand the subject, you’ll have an opinion on it. If you have an opinion, you can’t be truly unbiased. Ever!

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