Local journalism matters. This is why I am so angry when political parties deliver fake newspapers, made to look like the local free press, but which are in fact nothing more than a campaign leaflet for their party. In our democracy it is absolutely right that parties communicate their policies and advocate for their candidates to the electorate.
It is not right to hoodwink voters in to reading their material. All this does is undermine trust in excellent and much-needed local titles and journalists.
In a post-truth landscape, where politics is more polarized than ever before, politicians have had enough of experts, and facts are secondary to messaging; it is more important than ever to be able to read about local issues that the larger news outlets do not cover.
It is important to be able to read about it in an unbiased way. It is important to have sources for news that we can trust.
Recently, in the new constituency of Ely and East Cambs, the Liberal Democrats have been delivering these fake newspapers. The ‘Ely and East Cambs Courier’ claims under its apparent masthead to be a ‘free newspaper’. After a long list of village names in small type it does continue ‘from the Liberal Democrats’. It is easy to miss and nowhere on the front page is any kind of party logo.
The interior features ‘Courier Comment’ and a ‘Special Report’, the kind of elements in keeping with a newspaper layout. Yet the entire publication is comment! One-sided, biased comment from a political party, that you would expect in a clearly branded leaflet, but not in a genuine newspaper.
It is only the back page in the tiniest of type we see the legally required imprint for political campaign materials, stating that is promoted by the Liberal Democrats.
In the pamphlet, Liberal Democrat Parliamentary spokesperson Charlotte Cane features heavily. My question to Charlotte is, do you defend and condone the use of these pretend newspapers?
Do you not value the importance of Cambridgeshire’s excellent journalism? Do you believe it is acceptable to mislead people if it means your party might garner more votes?
The Conservative Party has been rightly attacked nationally for using this same format. Are the Cambridgeshire Liberal Democrats looking to copy their dishonest tactics?
A politically neutral campaign group called Reform Political Advertising (@clearpolitic5) have these faux newspapers in their sights. They believe standards in political advertising should be policed in the same way that the Advertising Standards Authority does with non-political misleading advertising.
I wholeheartedly support their campaign and aims. I encourage readers who believe we deserve honesty from our local and national politicians to do likewise by reporting examples of these fake newspapers to them.
On her Twitter profile, Elizabeth McWilliams describes herself thus: Vice-Chair Landbeach Parish Council, feminist, lefty, grammar nerd. Alumni & Events Officer at Churchill College. Rants own.
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