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  1. Media Law
June 21, 2018updated 22 Jun 2018 8:59am

Labour election agent fined over party political wraparound advert in local weekly that looked almost like ‘part of the newspaper’

By Charlotte Tobitt

A Labour Party election agent has been fined for an “oversight” which led to the Ilford Recorder newspaper publishing a wraparound advert without the legally required imprint identifying it as political campaign material.

The advert under complaint was published in the Recorder on 1 June last year, one week ahead of the snap general election.

It was labelled as an editorial by Ilford South’s parliamentary candidate for Labour Mike Gapes (who was ultimately re-elected) under the headline: “You can’t trust the Tories with King George A&E.”

The Representation of the People Act 1983 says that any material intended to promote a candidate ahead of an election must contain the name and address of the material’s printer, promoter and the person on whose behalf it is being published.

Matthew Goddin, 44, today pleaded guilty at Barkingside Magistrates’ Court in east London to a charge of allowing the publication of election material, circulated via the Archant weekly newspaper, without the correct imprint.

An image of the wrapround was shared on Twitter, below, by Labour MP Wes Streeting.

The wraparound as it appeared in the Ilford Recorder on 1 June 2017. Picture: Twitter/@WesStreeting

Tom Nicholson, prosecuting, told the court that a Conservative candidate had reported the advert because they were “concerned, on the face of it, it didn’t look like an advert at all”.

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Nicholson said: “What that [an imprint] would help to do is demonstrate that this is an advert rather than a piece of newspaper because it presents almost as an editorial part of the newspaper.

“But it’s also fair to say that the regulations don’t require any greater identification than it is an advert.”

Nicholson said the incident could be considered “very much a technical offence” and that normally an imprint appears in “very small print so it doesn’t particularly convey a lot of information people would ever notice”.

Goddin was the election agent for Streeting, but placed the advert in the Ilford Recorder on behalf of Gapes because Streeting’s campaign, in a more marginal constituency, had more funding, Nicholson said.

He added that Goddin, of Aintree Crescent in Ilford, may have had “more culpability” for the oversight if he had been Gapes’s own election agent.

The original wraparound had contained the imprint but, Nicholson said, Goddin had “just not noticed” the final version had been sent to the printers without it.

According to Nicholson, Goddin’s statement in the case was effectively “it was simply an oversight in the course of a busy election campaign”.

Goddin  was offered a police caution, but failed to accept it in time so a court summons was issued.

Robert Dynowski, defending, said: “[It] carries no malicious or other intent. There was no intent to deceive or in any way exert an impact on the election itself.”

Brenda Wallman, chairman of the magistrates, said: “We accept that it is a sort of technical issue but as an experienced election agent it is something that you should not have missed.”

The magistrates fined Goddin £100 and order him to pay £100 costs and a compulsory £30 victim surcharge.

Addressing Goddin, Wallman added: “I am sure you will be careful in the future to ensure that everything is compliant.”

Press Gazette has contacted Archant for comment.

The wide use of wraparound adverts in May last year ahead of the local elections, which came one month before the snap general election, prompted a backlash from readers and the National Union of Journalists.

The union was concerned that many of the adverts featured “mastheads in a manner which may suggest editorial endorsement for a political party or candidate”.

Séamus Dooley, then acting NUJ general secretary, said: “Party political advertising is a legitimate feature of campaigning and there is no doubt that media organisations welcome the additional revenue.

“But, disguising advertising as news and effectively hijacking a newspaper masthead for any political party or candidate is an entirely different matter and is a cause of concern.”

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