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The Conservative Party’s campaign tactics have been branded “appalling” by one of Britain’s most renowned photojournalists after imitating a shuttered local newspaper to garner votes.
Lincoln Conservative MP Karl McCartney has issued a leaflet to residents branded as the ‘Lincoln Chronicle’ – the same name as a weekly newspaper in the seat that was closed 15 years ago, and which many residents remember.
Lincoln resident Sasha Drennan told Byline Times the party was “at it again” after this site revealed the Conservative Party’s widespread use of fake newspapers to promote their candidates. It seems to be becoming a strategy.
The tactic was used successfully in Uxbridge and South Ruislip last month, with the party’s ‘Uxbridge and South Ruislip People’ urging people to “Stop ULEZ” (Sadiq Khan’s Ultra Low Emissions Zone expansion). The fake magazine mirrored the title of the local council-run Hillingdon People, which is meant to be apolitical.
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A Lincoln constituent has contacted Byline Times to hit out at the “misleading” party materials used in her area. A spokesperson for the Electoral Commission has previously told this newspaper that there are no rules against parties imitating local newspapers, or from hiding their party name in party-political materials. However, the watchdog has previously condemned the practice.
Candidates simply have to say who is “promoting” campaign materials, which individual it is on behalf of, and who provided the printing services.
There is no mention of the Conservative Party on the front page of the MP’s leaflet – even on the “microscopic” legally-required imprint at the very bottom.
Byline Times asked the local party why they were mimicking a defunct newspaper for party political purposes. We have not yet received a response. The ruse has previously been condemned by industry body the News Media Association among other press groups.
Dr Mike Maloney OBE, one of the UK’s most decorated photographers and a Lincolnite who began his career at the real Lincoln Chronicle in the 1970s, told Byline Times the fake newspaper was “typical of politicians”. He added it represented the idea of “never letting the facts interfere with a good story.”
“It was very, very sad when the Chronicle closed. I started my career there decades ago. At one time it was a great paper,” Dr Maloney said, adding that the decision by the local Conservatives to imitate the defunct paper was “appalling.”
Maloney has toured with the royals as a photographer and was three times voted Press Photographer of the Year. He was Chief Photographer for Mirror Group Newspapers for three decades and dined with Margaret Thatcher shortly before her death in 2013.
Local Sasha Drennan told Byline Times: “I think it’s dreadful, especially as it appears to be mimicking an actual local newspaper, the Lincoln Chronicle [which is] defunct.”
She initially thought that the paper had been revived – but then realised it was a party political promotion. Drennan said the legally-required imprint on the front page was “so small”, adding some would “think it’s real impartial reporting, not political promotion.”
Byline Times has received other examples of local Conservative party groups issuing fake newspapers in recent months, and will be reporting more in due course.
News Media Association Hits Out After “Abuse” of Loopholes in 2021
NMA, the trade body for the regional and national press, wrote to the Electoral Commission in 2021 ahead of a campaign launch to call for “an end to fake local newspapers”, as reported by industry title Hold the Front Page.
Then-NMA chairman Henry Faure Walker, said at the time: “Political propaganda leaflets designed to look and feel exactly like independent local newspapers are being pushed through letterboxes across the country.
“During the 2019 general election, the News Media Association railed against these publications after examples published by Labour, Conservatives and the Lib Dems emerged.
“The Electoral Commission criticised the practice, citing it as an example of misleading campaigning techniques which the public were concerned about.
“We thought we’d seen the back of them but, sadly…they’ve started popping up again. Make no mistake, these publications are designed to fool you into thinking you are reading independent journalism.
“In fact, they are the exact opposite – party political propaganda sheets masquerading as real newspapers…We think this cynical attempt to mislead you is wrong. It undermines trust in both politicians and independent local newspapers.”
The body launched a ‘Don’t Be Duped’ campaign to call out the publications “for what they are and see them stopped once and for all.”
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