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Telegraph Pours Thousands of Pounds Pushing Anti-Labour Stories on Social Media 

The right-wing newspaper’s ads seem to skirt the line of partisan campaigning, prompting a note from the Electoral Commission…

One of the Telegraph stories being pushed extensively with paid ads on Facebook and Instagram

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The Telegraph newspaper has received a warning shot from the Electoral Commission after promoting a series of ads on Meta (as well as X) that read as anti-Labour attack stories. 

The right-wing outlet is running ads warning of “disaster” if Labour is elected and introduces VAT on private school fees. 

On the 28th May, a few days after Sunak announced the snap election, the paper spent at least £500 promoting a piece: “Learn why Labour’s plans for private school fees could spell disaster.”

The day after, another ad ran, reaching around a million people. It was an interview with PM Sunak leading on his claim that he and Boris Johnson “were in touch the other day, talking about the risk that Starmer would pose to our country’s security”. Over £1,000 was spent. 

This month, at least four out of eight ads from the Telegraph identified by June 10th can be described as anti-Labour, including: “In this general election, the choice is clear” above an article saying: “Will a Labour win spell disaster for Britain’s schools?”

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We’re asking for your help to keep track of dodgy campaigning this election, so if you spot anything that bears investigation, please email us at votewatch24@bylinetimes.com.

Similar ads have received millions of views on X (formerly Twitter)

Another ad reads: “Learn why many soon-to-be-retirees are making weighty financial decisions, based on speculation” above an article saying: “Savers drain pension pots ahead of Labour tax raid.” 

It has led to speculation that the ads could be considered “third party campaigning” on behalf of the Conservative Party. The ads are formally classed as political/issues-based by Meta, though this does not mean they are considered party-political for the purposes of electoral law. 

Some of the latest ads being pushed on Meta (Facebook and Instagram) by the Telegraph

Byline Times approached the Telegraph as well as the Electoral Commission, which enforces the rules on “imprints” as well as transparency on political spending/donations. 

Is the outlet adhering to transparency rules on political spending? Would the outlet be registering as a “third party campaigner” with the Electoral Commission? 

A spokesperson for the Electoral Commission told Byline Times that while the tone is “negative” towards Labour, they did not consitute urging voters to cast their ballot a particular way.

The watchdog spokesperson said: “We have reviewed the adverts that you highlighted and have not identified any regulated campaign material. Although the tone of the material is negative towards Labour and its policies, there is no clear call to action – explicit or implicit – for voters to vote a particular way. This material does not meet the purpose test for regulated activity.”

Crucially however, the watchdog appeared to issue a warning to the outlet not to breach rules on partisan campaigning during the official election period: “As with any other organisation which may be considering regulated campaigning, we will contact the Telegraph to highlight the legal requirements for campaigners and offer advice in case they have plans for regulated campaigning in the future.”

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While there are not understood to be rules that prevent the Telegraph engaging in this kind of advertising, Brian Cathcart, professor of journalism at Kingston University London and a founder of the Hacked Off campaign, told this outlet that “it seems unusual” nonetheless. 

“Newspapers normally maintain at least a pretence of independence from political parties, keeping a little distance even at election time. With these ads the Telegraph seems to have pretty well abandoned that pretence. 

“It is another sign of the blurring of the lines between the hard-right press and the modern, hard-right Tory party. They are steadily merging into a single, coherent entity,” Prof Cathcart said.

A Telegraph spokesperson defended the ads, saying: “As is the case with all news publishers, we routinely promote our editorial content to readers and subscribers via paid marketing – this is not new, nor is it unique to an election campaign.” They did not comment on the newspaper’s interactions with the elections watchdog. 

In 2015, the Telegraph was fined £30,000 for sending out a ‘vote Tory’ email ahead of the General Election. The unsolicited email went to hundreds of thousands of its subscribers, urging them to vote for the Conservatives.

As Politics.co.uk reported at the time: “The Information Commissioner said the ‘unprecedented’ email, sent by Telegraph editor Chris Evans on the eve of last year’s general election, was a serious breach of regulations protecting consumers from unsolicited online marketing.”

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