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Swinson hits back over Lib Dems’ local newspaper ‘mimicry’

Jo SwinsonJo Swinson has defended the Liberal Democrats’ decision to publish “free newspapers” which mimic local press titles despite a furious industry backlash.

The party’s leader hit back after Newsquest made an official complaint over publication of the Mid Hampshire Gazette, produced in support of the Lib Dems’ election  candidate for Winchester Paula Ferguson, which has drawn criticism for its similarity to the Basingstoke Gazette.

Newsquest editorial director Toby Granville has demanded the party apologises, ceases publication of the pamphlet immediately and destroys any remaining copies.

The Society of Editors has also called for new “clear, enforceable guidelines on political freesheets” to be introduced as a result of the row.

But Ms Swinson, pictured, has backed her party’s tactics, saying the use of such campaign newspapers was “as old as the hills”.

She was quoted in the i as saying: “Generally we have newspapers going out as one of our campaign types of leaflets and, as I say, it’s kind of as old as the hills.

“Doing campaign newspapers is not exactly a new campaign tactic, nor one that is only one that is done by the Liberal Democrats.”

The row erupted yesterday after HTFP reported that Basingstoke Gazette editor Katie French had criticised the Lib Dems for the pamphlet’s similarity to her own title, which circulates in the Mid Hampshire constituency.

Newsquest has since made an official complaint in a letter to the Lib Dems’ legal department, a copy of which has also been sent to the Electoral Commission.

It states: “The publication flagrantly mimics for partisan political purposes the name, style, layout and content of an independent local newspaper.

“It is our belief that it is intended to mislead in an attempt to pass it off in the minds of readers as having an association with our own title or another independent newspaper.

“Your publication casts damaging and false imputations on Newsquest Media Group’s editorial independence and seriously undermines the relationship of trust and confidence between readers and local newspapers generally.”

In addition to the official complaint, Newsquest editorial director Toby Granville has threatened to advise the company’s editors not to publish Lib Dem election campaign news unless the Mid Hampshire Gazette is pulled.

Toby told HTFP: “We look forward to receiving a response to our letter from the Liberal Democrats and Electoral Commission in due course.”


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  • November 27, 2019 at 12:27 pm

    Many points have been made on previous articles but i’d like to repeat one: if I were the leader of a Lib Dem council I would seriously reconsider which papers/websites get the statutory funding cash.

    The papers have such small circulations that they hardly do the job. Instead I would look to the hyper locals and support them.

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  • November 28, 2019 at 10:02 am

    Swinson isn’t so much ‘defending’ the decision to publish these pretend newspapers but simply claims to be following a trend. She doesn’t address the point being made, which is that these publications are political leaflets deliberately disguised as independent newspapers. Otherwise, the reference to it being a Lib Dem publication would be made clear. Shame on her.

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  • November 28, 2019 at 11:07 am

    Anyone confusing a party political electioneering leaflet with a local paper shouldn’t be allowed to vote.

    The double standards of whining about a local political groups flyer possibly confusing the voters into thinking it’s their local weekly while the same publisher happily takes money for allowing a four page party political weekly paper cover wrap which is made to look like that weeks main news is laughable and embarrassing

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  • November 28, 2019 at 4:01 pm

    “….political leaflets deliberately disguised as independent newspapers”
    I don’t know whether to laugh or cry when I think there are apparently people out there who can’t differentiate between a leaflet and a newspaper?

    I know news content is worse than it’s ever been,templated pages are turning papers into comic books and paginations are being reduced to save a few quid,but if anyone is confused enough into thinking a leaflet is a local paper then it’s time for publishers and NQ specifically to run up the white flag and go home.

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