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Electoral chiefs demand end to parties’ local press mimicry

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.

The industry subsequently united against the practice, with News Media Association chairman David Dinsmore calling on all political parties to put an immediate end to it.

Lib Dem Gazette

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.


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  • April 24, 2020 at 10:33 am

    Blinkered vision and double standards here

    This is very much a two way street with some editors compromising their integrity and that of the paper by welcoming paid for four page party political cover wraps to be printed around their weeklies,often allowing the papers own masthead to be included.
    It seems for these editors that integrity and credibility can be bought its just a matter of agreeing a price.
    The call needs to be a complete ban on ALL cover wraps around ALL papers, not just st election time, and not just to grab some easy money and a quick fix one week reader spike.

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  • April 24, 2020 at 10:53 am

    Ah yes the old ‘party political cover wraps’

    I’d like HTFP to ask each regional publisher whether any publication in their group has taken a paid for party cover wrap, then publish the group, number of wraps ,in say the last 5 years, and the name of each of the wrapped publications
    Presumably it will be zero by all those complaining previously and calling for an end to this fake news/misleading the public style practice now.
    The information would make for very interesting reading however we know there would be little cooperation for fear of a large number of red faces once the full number of publications guilty of wrapping was known.

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  • April 24, 2020 at 11:08 am

    There is a marked difference between a paid-for advertisement or a wrap which is a clear advert and a publication which imitates the look and feel of local newspaper, while carrying party propaganda.

    This is a really welcomed step by the Electoral Commission and should be celebrated.

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  • April 24, 2020 at 11:36 am

    Take a look at some of the wrapped free weeklies which happily take four page paid promotions under the guise of that papers main story and in the style of the paper itself, that’s far more misleading to a reader than what is obviously distributed as an electioneering promotional leaflet.

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  • April 24, 2020 at 3:30 pm

    Anything to avoid misleading folk should be considered but is this really a major concern for the public?
    Have there been many complaints?
    Do a large number of people believe a leaflet is the local weekly just because it’s in a newspaper style?

    Or is it more a case of publishing groups aggrieved at losing previously easy ad money at election time now that political parties have decided the local free sheet no longer reaches the electorate it previously did so they’re doing their own thing ?

    Seriously, anyone mistaking a campaigning leaflet for the local rag shouldn’t be allowed to vote

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