The Manchester Evening News website ran a fake news story after it was sent to the newsdesk by a campaign group to highlight what it claims is “inaccurate reporting” at the title.
The tongue-in-cheek story falsely stated that a “naked streak” would take place through the city of Manchester’s Gay Village on Easter Monday in a bid to raise money for the Manchester Pride Community Fund.
It included fabricated quotes from official Manchester Pride chief executive Mark Fletcher and a city councillor, with risqué lines including: “I always like a sausage at our world-beating Christmas market, but I’m not sure residents are ready to see mine.”
The story was published online “for five minutes” on Thursday before being taken down, according to a spokesman for Manchester Evening News (MEN) owners Trinity Mirror, but it continued to circulate on social media and remain visible in Google searches afterwards.
The fake news story was sent out by campaign group FactsMCR, understood to be run by members of the LGBT community.
Member Geoff Stafford, who is openly gay, told Press Gazette: “We’ve been complaining for years about the Pride event and the way the facts and figures have been reported.”
He accused the daily newspaper of “inflating” facts and figures in an attempt to provide “positive” coverage of the event and of ignoring negative stories such as road closures, adding that attendance figures have varied from claims of 600,000 in a news report in 2000 to 100,000 in 2005.
“It doesn’t matter how old these articles are, they are still online misleading the public,” he said.
“We weren’t happy with the standard of journalism. We thought this stuff was coming from press releases so we put out a press release to see if the Evening News would do any fact-checking.
“We put the actual number of the [Manchester Pride] organiser on the email so if they had wanted to find out more about it they could have and they would have realised it wasn’t true – within an hour or two of it being sent it was on the Evening News website.”
A spokesperson for Trinity Mirror told Press Gazette a press release “purporting to be from the organisers of Manchester Pride” was sent to the MEN on Thursday, 26 January.
“The story was posted online in good faith, however after less than five minutes it was taken down when the error was realised,” they said.
“All efforts were made to remove the story from social media as quickly as possible. We have apologised to the chief executive of Pride, Mark Fletcher, who was very understanding.”
They added: “As for accusations of ‘misinformation’, the only example which has been forthcoming relates to the reporting of attendance figures from 17 years ago.
“The Manchester Evening News checks attendance figures with multiple sources including Greater Manchester Police before publishing.
“Manchester Evening News is proud of its longstanding support of Manchester Pride.”