A message to the Conservatives from our regulator: stop conning voters with fake newspapers

These Conservatives will do pretty much anything to con the public into voting for them. We ran a story back in January about how they were pumping out looky-likey propaganda to tell us that Tory blue is green. In recent months, they’ve switched their phoney eco-credentials for faux-journalism promoting their candidates as local heroes and lauding their ‘achievements’ in what look like genuine local newspapers. Some don’t even mention the Conservative Party – unless it’s in the teeniest print ever, requiring a magnifying glass – just give the impression that the local media is absolutely delighted to be reporting on the promoted individual’s stellar performance.

Unbelievably, this deceit is all perfectly legit under current election rules. Parties can spend as much as they like outside the closed election period puffing up their candidate, provided the puffery concentrates on the individual, not the party. To be fair, the LibDems got hauled over the coals in 2019 for a similar tactic and the fake newspaper is by no means a new thing. But it stinks, doesn’t it?

With thanks to Alex McGuire

And our independent regulator, Impress, is not at all happy with campaign material got up to look like a local paper!

The chief exec, Lexie Kirkconnell-Kawana, has written to the Conservative Party Chair, Greg Hands, to call this trickery out. Letters were also sent to the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats, the Green Party, the SNP, Sinn Fein, The DUP and Plaid Cymru.  

Here’s what she wrote:

“Dear Greg Hands,

“Trust in journalism has reached a crisis point. Our research shows that less than half of the public trust news publishers, while journalists themselves are trusted by just 38 per cent of the public; politicians are one of the few jobs to rank lower.

“For democracy to flourish, it is essential that we have a thriving, healthy and trusted news media ecosystem. To achieve this, collaboration and transparency is needed between news organisations, the public and politicians.

“It is entirely disheartening then to see the latter group continuing to engage in the practice of distributing campaigning materials under the guise of local newspapers, misleading voters into believing what they are reading is the work of local journalists from independent publications.

“Often these are accompanied by either no clarification of their actual purpose or by only the smallest clarifying statements.

“We are therefore asking that the Conservative Party, and all political parties, carefully review this practice among their candidates moving forward and the negative impact it will have on politics, journalism, and democracy. If you do insist on continuing to produce these materials, we implore you to seek out rigorous and independent press regulation to ensure they meet robust standards.”

I suspect we can guess how they will respond, if at all. Goodness knows, trust in democracy and the democratic process is low enough as it is…but then we should realise by now that we are ‘governed’ by an organisation that is always prepared to go lower to cling on to power. We aren’t falling for it, though, are we?