Why local newspapers were right to run Tory front-page ads on local election day

I suspect many of those complaining about the Conservative Party front-page wrap-around ads in many local newspapers this week are not regular newspaper buyers themselves.

The laptop warriors deriding political advertising in print media should bear in mind that this sort of open campaigning is infinitely preferable to the “dark ads” which can appear on social media. It is clear, up front and has the handy side-effect of helping to support the vital work of local newspaper journalism.

By contrast the sort of personalised political advertising which appears on Facebook is subject to little oversight and can mean that different voters in the same constituency receive contradictory messages. It also almost impossible to regulate.

The English Defence League might be a different matter, but taking money from the Conservatives is a no-brainer.

The extent to which the Tories have targeted local newspapers has been analysed by Buzzfeed’s Jim Waterson who notes that the ads are mostly in Tory target seats which voted Leave in the EU referendum.

Titles from various local newspaper publishers have run the promos, headlined “Theresa May for Britain”, including: the Mansfield Chad, Exeter Express and Echo, Westmorland Gazette and Lancashire Telegraph.

Waterson notes that running the nationally-focused ads on the day of the local elections could have been a tactic which allows the Tories to dodge strict local election spending limits.

Newsquest Sussex group editor Andy Parkes has written about the issue.

The Brighton Argus is one of the titles to publish the Tories’ front-page promotion.

He said: “Every time we publish an ad which promotes a particular political party I always get complaints from those of a different persuasion.

“In fact, when I’m getting complaints from Conservatives, Labour supporters, Lib Dems and even a smattering of others, all saying we are biased and showing favour to a party other than theirs, I know we’re doing something right.

“It’s not that I want to upset anyone, it’s just that if I know I’m upsetting everyone equally and they’re all moaning we must be taking an even-handed and balanced approach.

“So, if you see advertisements in any of our newspapers, including this one, from any political party over the coming weeks please be assured I will have scrutinised it very carefully to see it complies with all our terms and conditions.

“I will also be checking that it falls within the very stringent guidelines set out by the Advertising Standards Authority.

“We will show no favour to any particular party but are bound to consider all applications for ads, from whichever political group, provided they adhere to our policies.”

Parkes is right. Editors are responsible for the advertising which appears in their newspapers and have to ensure that it is not misleading or in  breach of the law.

They aren’t making a political statement by accepting advertising and it won’t influence the admirably even-handed political coverage most local newspapers provide.

While editors would undoubtedly prefer to have news, rather than ads, on the front page. In the current climate they cannot afford to turn down the business.


10 thoughts on “Why local newspapers were right to run Tory front-page ads on local election day”

  1. But Labour advertises too, as it did during the recent Copeland by-election, as noted on Guido fawkes’ website.
    The wraparounds are available to all parties.
    We still have freedom of speech, much as many on the left decry it.
    If the EDL wanted to advertise, take their money too.
    As long as an ad is clearly marked an ad, there is no problem.

  2. This is NOT right and opposing it to Cambridge Analytica’s antics on Facebook is a weak excuse of an escape route…. That way lies a million further excuses for the lowest common denominator..

    We already have an electoral system that is seriously skewed. We have a Westminster power grab from local authorities and, within Westminster, a power grab by the Executive. Local authorities were the bedrock of communities and they are now being decimated in the name of ‘the market’.

    Currently 91 pence of every pound is taken by Westminster. Allowing Tory HQ to circumnavigate local electoral spending rules by running central party ads when they are already under massive, multiple, investigations for fraudulent election expenses in the previous general election cannot be justified.

    These are major reasons why the electorate is largely disenfranchised from politics – ‘what’s the point?’ is a common refrain. A disenfranchised electorate at this dangerous time for politics is a sure route for extremists of many persuasions to get a foothold…

    Very disappointed in this weak justification by Press Gazette.

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