A newspaper group has accused the Lib Dems of trying to pass the publication off as one of his group’s newspapers in the same area it circulates the Basingstoke Gazette.
Newsquest editorial director Toby Granville said he would advise editors in the organisation not to publish campaign news for the Lib Dems unless the leaflet – called the Mid-Hampshire Gazette – is withdrawn.
He tweeted: “This is outrageous Lib Dems passing yourselves off as the Gazette newspaper in same area as our @BasGazette.
“If this isn’t pulled I’ll advise all Newsquest editors not to publish any campaign news for your party in build-up to #GE2019”
The Society of Editors condemned “what appears to be a concerted effort by the Liberal Democrats to mislead readers and voters by disguising their election freesheet as imitation local newspapers”.
Ian Murray, the organisation’s chief executive, said: “It is ironic how it is often politicians who complain about fake news but then set out to at least blur the lines for readers – and in this case voters – by packaging their partial messages to ape independent newspapers.”
He continued: “If political parties were genuine in their desire, often expressed, to both remove the effects of fake news and disinformation as well as support existing regional and local media they would take steps to ensure their political freesheets look markedly different to real newspapers.”
But Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson has defended the party’s tactics over the use of leaflets packaged up to look like newspapers.
Swinson told the PA news agency: “I haven’t seen the specifics, but doing campaign newspapers is not exactly a new campaign tactic, nor one that is only one that is done by the Liberal Democrats.
“We obviously do a mix of leaflets, letters or folded leaflets, or stuff on news print – I mean that’s part of getting our message across.
“Generally we have newspapers going out as one of our campaign types of leaflets and, as I say, it’s kind of as old as the hills.”