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Chesham and Amersham Conservatives and Lib Dems told to stop printing fake newspapers

Saturday, 18 May 2024 07:00

By Charlie Smith - Local Democracy Reporter

Chesham and Amersham Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have been told to stop printing fake newspapers in the run-up to the general election.

Campaign leaflets formatted to look like real newspapers are ‘damaging to democracy’, according to the Society of Editors.

The media industry body has criticised the design of leaflets pushed through letterboxes by the Lib Dem Chesham and Amersham MP Sarah Green and her Tory challenger Gareth Williams.

The pair are accused of not making clear that their respective non-existent tabloids, the ‘Chesham & Amersham News Courier’ and ‘Chesham and Amersham Chronicle’ are funded and distributed by their parties.

When asked about residents’ concerns at Green’s fake newspapers last week, the Lib Dems pointed the finger at those of Williams, a Buckinghamshire councillor and ex-cabinet member.

Wading into the row, Dawn Alford, executive director of the Society of Editors said: “Given that the Liberal Democrat Party is one of the worst perpetrators when it comes to disguising party political material as independent news and information, the hypocrisy of this situation is almost laughable.”

Alford, an experienced journalist and editor, called on the Lib Dems and Conservatives to abandon their fake newspapers.

She told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “Instead of arguing over whose fake newspaper is more transparent, both parties should ditch the format altogether and, instead, look to promote the work of the genuine local media as a reliable and independent source of news.”

A copy of Cllr Williams’ Chesham and Amersham Chronicle delivered to homes last summer brags of his actions holding Thames Water to account over its plans to improve water quality in the River Chess.

Another of his leaflets features a front-page article talking up the Conservative government’s decision to cut national insurance contributions below a masthead that reads: ‘Rishi Sunak and Gareth Williams’.

Both pamphlets are styled as newspapers and feature a line of fine print at the bottom of their front page stating that they are promoted by the Chesham and Amersham Conservative Association.

Meanwhile, the front page of Green’s Chesham & Amersham News Courier boasts of her healthy majority over the Tories in the 2021 Chesham and Amersham by-election and carries a capitalised headline reading: ‘Residents say it should be Sarah’.

A fine line of text below the masthead states that it is a free leaflet paid for by the Liberal Democrats and delivered by the Royal Mail.

A Lib Dem Spokesperson said: “While we can’t account for how other parties communicate, the Liberal Democrats have set clear guidance when using tabloid campaign leaflets, which includes marking them as from and paid for by us on the front page.

“Unlike the Conservatives approach, our guidance goes further than political parties’ legal requirements. It’s crucial that this type of tabloid campaigning literature states clearly it comes from a political party.”

A Conservative spokesman said: “When directly comparing Gareth’s literature to Sarah’s, there is a clear contrast – Gareth clearly prints his name, making clear it is a political communication.

“It’s a shame to see the Lib Dems attack Gareth on the back of scrutiny of their literature.

“Gareth will continue to run a consistently positive campaign, focused on the priorities of Chesham and Amersham residents.”
 

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