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Editor bans Tory press releases amid leaflet ‘endorsement’ row

The editor of a weekly title has hit out at a Tory parliamentary candidate who published a leaflet suggesting the newspaper had endorsed him.

Yousef Dahmash, who is standing for the Conservatives in Rugby and Bulkington at the general election, included a quote from the Rugby Advertiser on his campaign material that appeared to be an endorsement.

The quote was taken from a news report on Cllr Dahmash’s selection as the Tories’ prospective parliamentary canddidate to replace outgoing MP Mark Pawsey.

Advertiser editor Phil Hibble voiced his anger at the move in an editorial, claiming a “political line had been crossed” and vowing not to publish any further Tory press releases until the matter is resolved.

The apparent 'endorsement' from Cllr Dahmash's leaflet

The apparent ‘endorsement’ from Cllr Dahmash’s leaflet

Wrote Phil: “Political canvassing has always sailed close to the wind and it is our job, as a trusted local newspaper, to stay neutral and decode the spin.

“So you can imagine our concern when we saw a leaflet from the Conservative’s Yousef Dahmash, which had an ‘endorsement’ from us, The Rugby Advertiser.

“The good folk of the town will be wondering ‘Has our local newspaper suddenly abandoned their position of political neutrality?’.

“Let us assure you – no, we haven’t. And we are angry.

“The ‘endorsement’ came in the shape of a ‘quote’, which read: “Someone whose Rugby credentials are not in doubt….”. It then went on to list Yousef’s credentials and attributed it to The Rugby Advertiser.

“Not only did the Tories fail to notify us about using our name on their literature, but they used the quote out of context.

“For complete transparency, the here is the start of our article (titled ‘Rugby Tories play it safe with candidate for next election’) which includes the line they used: “It’s taken more than seven months since Mark Pawsey announced he would not stand at the next general election – and the Rugby party has turned to a member of his office team as their next candidate.

“‘Yousef Dahmash is county councillor for Hillmorton, as well as being Mr Pawsey’s chief of staff and senior parliamentary assistant.

“‘It’s been a long wait to see who would be the party’s new candidate, with a host of names in the frame.

“‘But after taking flak for selecting Lisa Parker to stand again for the borough council in May on the controversial basis that an allotment in Bilton was reasonable grounds for someone who lives in Northamptonshire to represent Rugby residents – and though external candidates are allowed in the parliamentary field – the association has gone for someone whose Rugby credentials are not in doubt.'”

“So why does this matter? Using a line out of context as an endorsement on political literature is, at best, morally questionable.

“But at worst, it is damaging to our reputation as a trusted source for local news. And that has consequences for local democracy.

“We have asked the Tories to make a public statement about this and we will not publish any of their press material in the editorial space until the matter is resolved.

“Using our name as an endorsement for a candidate is never acceptable and deeply unfair to the people of Rugby. A line has crossed and this must never happen again.”

Phil said in his editorial that Cllr Dahmash had spoken to him on the phone and claimed there was nothing wrong with the leaflet.

HTFP has approached Cllr Dahmash for further comment.