Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson has defended her party’s use of election campaign pamphlets designed to look like local newspapers, calling the tactic “as old as the hills”.
The party came under fire yesterday over election material produced with the masthead “Mid-Hampshire Gazette” in an area covered by Newsquest’s Basingstoke Gazette newspaper.
Newsquest editorial director Toby Granville wrote to the party asking it to apologise and pull the leaflets with immediate effect. He also threatened to tell editors to boycott Lib Dem campaign news.
Basingstoke Gazette editor Katie French told Press Gazette: “If it was called the Lib Dem Gazette it would be a different story, but the fact they’ve used a fake geographical name is very disappointing and very disingenuous and I think both readers and voters deserve better.”
The campaign tactic is allowed under electoral law provided the material contains an imprint indicating who it was produced by.
Swinson told PA: “I haven’t seen the specifics, but doing campaign newspapers is not exactly a new campaign tactic, nor one that is only done by the Liberal Democrats.
“We obviously do a mix of leaflets, letters or folded leaflets, or stuff on news print – I mean that’s part of getting our message across.
“Generally we have newspapers going out as one of our campaign types of leaflets and, as I say, it’s kind of as old as the hills.”
Similar pamphlets put out by the Lib Dems around the country use News and Observer mastheads with the name of the area, similar to a newspaper title. They also mimic the style, layout and content of a local newspaper.
A Lib Dem spokesperson told Press Gazette today: “Tabloid-style leaflets have been used by all parties for decades and suggesting that they are duping voters does a disservice to the British public.
“Liberal Democrats pride ourselves on working hard locally all year round on the issues that matter to local people.
“During an election period this is even more important and we are committed to informing people about the issues that matter to them.”
The Conservatives and Labour have used similar campaign materials in this election.
Press Gazette has called for UK political parties to stop imitating newspapers and for new guidelines demanding more prominent imprints and a ban on newspaper-style mastheads and copycat formats.
The Society of Editors made a similar demand, while the News Media Association said: “Political parties should not be seeking to copy the look and feel of independent local newspapers with their campaigning material.
“By scrutinising candidates on behalf of the public in communities across the UK, local news brands play a vital role in upholding democracy. Dressing up party political material as independent journalism undermines this and damages trust in both news media and politicians.”
Picture: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire