Political parties must stop imitating newspapers in their election campaign material to avoid deceiving voters and damaging the reputations of trusted local news titles.
The Liberal Democrats have rightly come under fire from sections of the news media industry today for publishing pamphlets in the run-up to next month’s general election that ape local papers.
One carried the masthead “Mid-Hampshire Gazette”, which could be mistaken for Newsquest’s Basingstoke Gazette, and used a typical front page layout, complete with strapline, headline, columns and crossheads.
The only official mark indicating its true purpose to readers is an “imprint” showing the name of the printer and promoter that appears as if a picture caption in small font beneath an image of party leader Jo Swinson.
Failure to include this is an offence under Electoral Commission guidelines.
Another Lib Dem pamphlet in Yorkshire is styled on a tabloid, with a red top masthead identifying it as the “North West Leeds and Wharfedale News”. On this occasion the imprint runs along the top of the page in small font.
The Conservatives have also tried the tactic, publishing the newspaper-style “East Devon Future” in the South West. One local resident told the Sidmouth Herald he believed the pamphlet was a council publication.
The News Media Association and Society of Editors, two bodies representing the news industry in the UK, have both condemned apparent attempts to mislead voters by mimicking local newspapers.
While it has been common practice in the past, and the deception is perhaps obvious to most, in today’s climate where trust in papers is at a low and nearly two-thirds of Britons worry about “fake news” it must stop.
The attempt to deceive voters into believing they are reading a newspaper, however blatant, imperils the professional output of journalists at a time when our industry is under threat.
Local newspapers have long been praised as pillars of the communities they serve, so it is small wonder politicians are keen for some of this to rub off on them, but it is far better they engage with the press than try to copy it.
As such, Press Gazette is calling on all UK political parties to cease imitating newspapers, of any kind, in their campaign material.
We also call on the Electoral Commission to tighten regulations around campaign material, demanding imprints appear more prominently and banning the use of newspaper mastheads and copycat formats.
Picture: Reuters/Hannah McKay