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Local Politicians Defend the Use of Fake Newspapers

Published on: 11 Sep, 2023
Updated on: 15 Sep, 2023

Examples of fake newspapers distributed in Guildford

By Martin Giles

The use of fake newspapers by political parties for campaign purposes has been defended by local representatives of all three major national parties in Guildford.

Their defence came ahead of a letter from press regulator Impress to Greg Hands, Conservative party chair, as well as other political parties in the UK.

In her letter, Impress CEO Lexie Kirkconnell-Kawana, highlighting the trust crisis that journalism currently faces, says: “For democracy to flourish it is essential that we have a thriving, healthy and trusted news media ecosystem…

“It is entirely disheartening to see the [politicians] continuing to engage in the practice of distributing campaigning materials under the guise of local newspapers, misleading voters…”.

Fake News Impress letter to Conservative party chair

The subject has also featured in Private Eye, which reports that even titles trademarked by a local publisher in the Midlands were used by the Conservative party.

Private Eye article September 8

South Swindon MP Sir Robert Buckland has claimed local press mimicry is “a positive thing” after delivering a title called the South Swindon Messenger around his constituency. Elsewhere other titles of real former local newspapers – the Lincoln Chronicle and the High Peak Reporter – have been used.

The Electoral Commission has said it is “powerless” to act on the practice, while the UK government told Hold the Front Page that local newspapers “should not be regulated” after refusing to act to stop it.

Readers of the Byline Times have responded with anger. One wrote: “Many people will be fooled by this, especially older people, who I would imagine tend to read the local papers more, are also less likely to notice the microscopic small print in hard-to-find places.”

A poll (sample 1,300 GB adults), conducted by independent pollsters Omnisis, has found that 62 per cent of people think that the fake newspaper tactic should be banned if they do not make clear which party is behind it.

The Conservative’s “Guildford Chronicle“. The small print at the bottom says: “Promoted by Adam Heilbron on behalf of Angela Richardson…” Click on image to enlarge.

Defending the practice, Guildford’s MP Angela Richardson said: “Like all other political parties, we use a range of methods to promote our campaigns. This includes using a newspaper format to inform voters both about what I am doing locally and what the government is doing nationally.

Angela Richardson MP

“Whilst the Liberal Democrats use this platform for political attacks and point scoring, our newspapers highlight my positive record in Guildford since being elected in 2019. For example, my latest Guildford Chronicle newspaper is currently being delivered to residents to update them on educational opportunities in and around our town.

“Every piece of campaign literature that we distribute adheres to the legal requirement of an imprint with the candidate and publisher information listed. However, the Electoral Commission has previously stated that literature designs are a matter for political parties and I trust Guildford residents to come to their own conclusions when reading these publications.”

The small print on the Guildford & Villages Gazette says “Paid for by the Liberal Democrats…” Click on image to enlarge.

Zoe Franklin, whose Liberal Democrat party is believed to have used fake newspapers more than other parties in Guildford, said: “As a political party we produce a variety of different styles of leaflets to share our message on local and national issues, one of which is a newspaper-style format.

Zoe Franklin

She then criticised the Conservatives, whose newspaper she said was less identifiable as political campaigning material. She said: “This approach is also taken by other political parties locally, including a newspaper-style leaflet by the Conservatives which was distributed last month.

“Local residents will see on our newspaper leaflet that it clearly states below the title ‘Paid for and distributed for free by the Liberal Democrats’ – we are not hiding that this is a political leaflet and find that our different approaches connect with different residents.

“In the Liberal Democrat office, we have struggled to find any mention of the word “Conservative” on the tabloid literature issued by the local Conservative MP. We assume it is because they are as ashamed of their party as the rest of the country is.”

Cllr James Walsh

Guildford Labour is understood not to have used fake newspapers for “at least ten years” according to one member, but Labour leader at GBC James Walsh said: “We’ve used a similar format in the past, not so much in Guildford Labour Party, but certainly when I was a councillor in Slough, and, to me, it’s just another way of presenting a party political leaflet – if a little old-hat now.

“One glance at the Lib Dems’ ‘Gazette’, for example, will tell you that you’re very unlikely to get a rounded viewpoint with all perspectives covered from the articles within.

“While the ‘fake newspaper’ may irritate some, there are probably more important things to get het up about – like very dodgy bar graphs at election time, for example….

“Besides, people are continuing to spend good money for the Daily Mail every day – and that particular publication wears the term ‘newspaper’ very loosely indeed. You certainly won’t find any rounded viewpoints and neutral reportage anywhere near it.”

Dragon editor Martin Giles

Dragon editor Martin Giles said: “Fortunately this does not affect us as an online newspaper directly but it is simply dishonest. Our regulator Impress is right to criticise these newspapers which are pretending to be something they are not.

“Honest parties and honest politicians, who wish to abide by the Nolan principles of honesty, openness and integrity, should have nothing to do with them.

“Rather than spend time and money producing misleading propaganda, all parties should concentrate effort on supporting local journalism which is on its knees. The current government has done nothing to offer effective support despite the findings of the Cairncross review in 2019.

“The truth is some of them do not like the scrutiny local journalism gives local politics.”


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Responses to Local Politicians Defend the Use of Fake Newspapers

  1. Mike Davis Reply

    September 11, 2023 at 2:26 pm

    We have enough fake MP without having the trash we have seen from a particular party. One that thrashes everybody else other than themselves. One particular who has a list of Failures that run into triple figure. The same party that had more PM’s than there’s been election. The use of a Trade Name is a copy right infringement. But that what they do best I’m actually supposed the party hasn’t replied just what could happen if the owners would take civil action against then I know I definitely would. We are reminded of this daily yet this has been overlooked by somebody who should have been informed of the British copyright law.

  2. Brian Creese Reply

    September 11, 2023 at 2:51 pm

    Sadly, Labour HQ does offer a fake newspaper template you can use for local purposes, but as this article says, Guildford Labour has not used it in the years I have been involved with the party.

    My question is simply, “Why would we?” We are the Labour Party, we are proud of what that means and want people to understand our values. Why would we want to hide our views and our principles under some fake identity?

    Using this fake newspaper format is surely designed to hide your real identity – otherwise why do it? We all know that most people give our lovingly crafted publications barely a second or two of attention, and the fake format hopes some people will think an independent publication is endorsing their party.

    It is dishonest and unnecessary. If you are campaigning for a political party you should be proud of it and happy for everyone to know who you are and what you represent. Ban the practice and bring back some honesty to our political realm.

    Brian Creese is a former chair of the Guildford Labour Party

  3. Ben Paton Reply

    September 11, 2023 at 4:24 pm

    How depressing and deplorable.

    A party with integrity would have no trouble just saying that they would stop passing themselves off as a local newspaper.
    Instead they all jump to defend their shoddy tactics.

    Why don’t they go the whole hog and call themselves Truth (Pravda)? Then the Orwellian deceit would be complete.

    This commentary on local journalism makes some sensible points:

  4. S Collins Reply

    September 11, 2023 at 5:19 pm

    The Lib Dem one has been worded to make it sound like they are paying for the delivery costs, not the leaflet.

  5. Jim Allen Reply

    September 12, 2023 at 9:02 am

    No one is fooled by fake newspapers. It is all very obvious where they come from.

  6. Bernard Quoroll Reply

    September 13, 2023 at 2:04 pm

    Sadly, the material that most political parties put through my letter box usually goes straight into my recycling bin. You don’t have to read very far before you get to the self-aggrandising claims, exaggerations and lies by omission that are the staple diet of most such “newspapers”. They do however serve a very useful purpose in making it clear who NOT to support. The problem is that does not leave very many (any?) to vote for.

  7. Jack Dawson Reply

    September 13, 2023 at 5:36 pm

    Angela Richardson MP: ” our newspapers highlight my positive record in Guildford since being elected in 2019″.

    It won’t be a broadsheet then.

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