The Electoral Commission has called for “real change” on misleading party political leaflets which resemble local newspapers.
The Commission has said the practice was among the major concerns of the public in its report into campaigning ahead of last year’s general election.
Over the course of the campaign, HTFP highlighted a series of instance of political parties bringing out political pamphlets which sought to mimic established local titles.
In its report, the Commission wrote: “We have signalled our concern about these issues before. If voters lose trust and confidence in political campaigning, democracy as a whole will suffer.
“Campaigners, candidates and parties themselves need to take greater responsibility for the presentation and content of campaigns they run and the impact of their activities on public confidence in elections.
“We cannot afford to miss the window of opportunity between now and the next scheduled general election. There needs to be real change to protect trust and confidence in campaigns at future elections and the integrity of our democracy.
“It will take governments, parties, campaigners, social media companies and regulators to work together to agree new laws or standards of conduct. We will support this work.”
A row began before the December poll after HTFP reported that Katie French, editor of Newsquest weekly the Basingstoke Gazette, had criticised the Lib Dems for their Mid Hampshire Gazette pamphlet’s similarity to her own title.
It prompted Newsquest editorial director Toby Granville to threaten to advise the company’s editors not to publish Lib Dem election campaign news unless the Mid Hampshire Gazette was pulled.
JPIMedia group content development director Tim Robinson also posted comparative images online of JPIMedia weekly the Glenrothes Gazette and the North East Fife Gazette, a Lib Dem publication which is described as a “free local newspaper”.
Then-Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson backed her party’s tactics, saying the use of such campaign newspapers was “as old as the hills”.
Elsewhere, the Tories were accused of “Trump tactics” over the publication of a title called Coventry South Future.