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May 6, 2015

Regional press election ads controversy: Hacked off targets Murdoch, Tories put mock news stories on front pages

By William Turvill and Dominic Ponsford

An advert telling newspaper readers to vote for themselves rather than Rupert Murdoch is appearing across a number of regional newspapers and websites this week.

The advert by online campaign group Avaaz appeared in the Trinity Mirror-owned Manchester Evening News today on page 15 (below) and is also set to feature in the Express and Star, the UK's largest regional title. Avaaz said it is targeting areas of undecided voters.

The campaign, which is backed by Hacked Off, runs with the headline: “Vote for who you believe in, not for who he tells you to.”

It adds below: “For decades, Prime Ministers from Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair and now David Cameron have sat comfortably in Rupert Murdoch’s pocket. This election has been Britain’s right-wing newspapers pushing their smear and loathing agenda because they fear a new government could pass laws which challenge their power.

“To all undecided voters in Britain, vote for what’s best for you, for what you believe in – not what’s best for Rupert Murdoch.”

The advert also appears on Avaaz's Facebook page, where it has been liked nearly 6,000 times and shared 12,000 times.

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Avaaz claims it has been viewed by more than 400,000 people overall.

The advert has been backed by celebrities John Cleese, Steve Coogan and Irvine Welsh.

Meanwhile, front page adverts for the Conservatives taking the form of mock news stories have appeared in a number of regional newspaper titles published by Johnston Press and attracted controversy.

The advert appeared on the front page of titles including the Hastings Observer in East Sussex and the Lancaster Guardian, pictured below:

The words 'advertiser's announcement' appear above the ad, which has been formatted to look like a news front page and mocks former Labour cabinet minister's infamous note saying "I'm afraid there is no money".

In Hastings the advert has prompted a petition which has been signed by more than 1,200 people.

The petition urges the title to:

APOLOGISE for the thoroughly disgraceful act of prostituting your FRONT PAGE as a paid advertorial to the Conservative Party, disguised as news at a crucial time in the general election, whilst pretending to be a "local" newspaper. Then get out of town.

One of the signatories, Graham Crane, said: "I am surprised this is legal as until I saw the small advertising notice I thought it was the front page. It wouldn't be so bad if it was true rather than a joke copying what Tory Reginald Maudling to his Labour successor James Callaghan in 1964."

Editor Gary Shipton said in an article responding to the criticism:  “Newspapers like the Hastings Observer do accept advertisement ‘wraps’ as a general matter of policy and the Conservative Party was therefore free to purchase the space in the same way that any other advertiser would have been able to do.

“Had a similar request been received from any other lawful political party they too would have been entitled to purchase the advertisement on the same terms and conditions."

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