The Society of Editors has condemned what appears to be a concerted effort by the Liberal Democrats to mislead readers and voters by disguising their election freesheet as imitation local newspapers.
The criticism comes after it was revealed that the party had produced election newsletters supporting their candidates in both Basingstoke and Leeds, which used titles which appeared to mimic local newspapers. In Basingstoke, the Liberal Democrat publication in support of its candidate has been titled ‘Mid Hampshire Gazette’. The area is already served by Newsquest title the ‘Basingstoke Gazette’.
In Leeds, the party’s publication in support of its candidate is called the ‘North West Leeds & Wharfedale News’.
Ian Murray, executive director of the Society of Editors commented: “It is ironic how it is often politicians who complain about fake news but then set out to at least blur the lines for readers – and in this case voters – by packaging their partial messages to ape independent newspapers.
“If political parties were genuine in their desire, often expressed, to both remove the effects of fake news and disinformation as well as support existing regional and local media they would take steps to ensure their political freesheets look markedly different to real newspapers.
“There should also be a requirement to clearly state which party is funding a publication in large, bold typeface rather than hiding such information away in an attempt to deceive.”
Murray added it was time there were clear enforceable guidelines on political freesheets of this kind that set out rules against aping existing publications or indeed attempting to pass off as an independent newspaper.