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The vast majority of voters believe fake newspapers being promoted by political parties – sometimes without making clear who they’re from – should be banned.
Byline Times has been investigating a deluge of party political leaflets being dressed up as local newspapers, issued by Conservative Party HQ to marginal parliamentary seats across the country.
Often the “imprint” – a legal requirement for election material setting out who is printing and promoting the flyers – is in tiny writing and in grey at the bottom of the page, while the name of the Conservative Party is not mentioned.
Readers have responded with anger. One wrote: “Many people will be fooled by this, especially older people who I would imagine tend to read the local papers more are also less likely to notice the microscopic small print in hard to find places.”
Another branded it “Tory marketing deliberately disguised as independent news”, while one recipient dubbed it “dirty tricks” campaigning.
The ruse has previously been condemned by industry body the News Media Association among other press groups.
Now exclusive polling for Byline Times by independent pollsters Omnisis has found that 62% of people in Britain think that the fake newspaper tactic should be banned if they do not make clear which party is behind it.
The figure rises to 65% among Conservative voters, the same as for Labour voters. Liberal Democrats, who also have been known to use fake newspapers for election material, are less in favour of a ban (55%). The figure rises significantly among over 75s, some of whom may be more vulnerable to misleading campaign materials: 75% back a ban on the practice. And opposition sits at 71% among those with no formal qualifications.
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Byline Times has asked the Conservative Party why it is mimicking sometimes defunct local newspapers for party political purposes. We have still not received a response, but the Somerset County Gazette was told by the party that one local leaflet was “clearly marked as being political material, and it complies with the relevant electoral rules and regulations.”
Earlier this week, this newspaper reported that voters have been posting back fake newspapers sent by the Conservative Party to their head office – in a bid to cost the party in postage fees. One voter told Byline Times they had posted approximately half a kilogram of takeaway menus and junk mail to CCHQ from a post box “nowhere near my house” – with a handwritten note saying “No more fake news please”. It was enough weight (>250 g) to count as a parcel so, in theory, should get priority treatment from the Royal Mail.
The Conservatives’ campaign tactics were branded “appalling” by one of Britain’s most renowned photojournalists after imitating a shuttered local newspaper to garner votes.
The tactic of publishing fake papers was used successfully in Uxbridge and South Ruislip last month, with the party’s ‘Uxbridge and South Ruislip People’ urging people to “Stop ULEZ” (Labour London Mayor 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.
It comes as a spokesperson for the Electoral Commission told Byline Times that “generally speaking,” election materials require the name and address of the printer and promoter.
But it came with a caveat that we are currently not in an official election period. The spokesperson added: “The candidate imprint rules don’t apply yet, as the general election has not been announced yet and so there are no candidates as such – someone can only officially become a candidate when the UK Parliament is dissolved.”
That means we are currently in a campaign wild west – where fake newspapers can be put out by political parties without even saying who’s publishing them.
“We encourage all parties and campaigners to include imprints on all material, to provide voters with transparency,” said the Electoral Commission figure.
A spokesperson for the Electoral Commission also 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.
Meanwhile, the Conservatives face an intellectual property theft row after a Derbyshire Conservative MP, Robert Largan MP, distributed a “newspaper” titled the High Peak Reporter – despite the name of the title being owned by an actual newspaper group.
Chris Bird owns Quest Media Network, which itself owns the brand title High Peak Reporter, and told the Prolific North outlet: “I guess we should be flattered by this stunt, but we are not. Would Mr Largan have tried this with the Daily Mirror or Daily Telegraph? Absolutely not, because that would have cost him and his party a lot of money for the blatant breach…”
The newspaper group, which also includes the Tameside Reporter, Glossop Chronicle and Oldham Reporter in its portfolio, has been publishing for 167 years, the title reported.
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 last week the fake newspaper was “typical of politicians”. He added it represented the idea of “never letting the facts interfere with a good story.”
Over 1,300 GB adults were polled online by Omnisis on the 22nd August 2023. Answers were weighted to make the results representative of the demographics of the British public.
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