I suspect many of those complaining about the Conservative Party front-page wrap-around ads in many local newspapers this week are not regular newspaper buyers themselves.
— Richy Johnson (@RichyJ91) May 4, 2017
The laptop warriors deriding political advertising in print media should bear in mind that this sort of open campaigning is infinitely preferable to the “dark ads” which can appear on social media. It is clear, up front and has the handy side-effect of helping to support the vital work of local newspaper journalism.
By contrast the sort of personalised political advertising which appears on Facebook is subject to little oversight and can mean that different voters in the same constituency receive contradictory messages. It also almost impossible to regulate.
The English Defence League might be a different matter, but taking money from the Conservatives is a no-brainer.
The extent to which the Tories have targeted local newspapers has been analysed by Buzzfeed’s Jim Waterson who notes that the ads are mostly in Tory target seats which voted Leave in the EU referendum.
Titles from various local newspaper publishers have run the promos, headlined “Theresa May for Britain”, including: the Mansfield Chad, Exeter Express and Echo, Westmorland Gazette and Lancashire Telegraph.
Waterson notes that running the nationally-focused ads on the day of the local elections could have been a tactic which allows the Tories to dodge strict local election spending limits.
The Brighton Argus is one of the titles to publish the Tories’ front-page promotion.
He said: “Every time we publish an ad which promotes a particular political party I always get complaints from those of a different persuasion.
“In fact, when I’m getting complaints from Conservatives, Labour supporters, Lib Dems and even a smattering of others, all saying we are biased and showing favour to a party other than theirs, I know we’re doing something right.
“It’s not that I want to upset anyone, it’s just that if I know I’m upsetting everyone equally and they’re all moaning we must be taking an even-handed and balanced approach.
“So, if you see advertisements in any of our newspapers, including this one, from any political party over the coming weeks please be assured I will have scrutinised it very carefully to see it complies with all our terms and conditions.
“I will also be checking that it falls within the very stringent guidelines set out by the Advertising Standards Authority.
“We will show no favour to any particular party but are bound to consider all applications for ads, from whichever political group, provided they adhere to our policies.”
Parkes is right. Editors are responsible for the advertising which appears in their newspapers and have to ensure that it is not misleading or in breach of the law.
They aren’t making a political statement by accepting advertising and it won’t influence the admirably even-handed political coverage most local newspapers provide.
While editors would undoubtedly prefer to have news, rather than ads, on the front page. In the current climate they cannot afford to turn down the business.