Public warned to guard against political parties mimicking trusted local newspapers, The Yorkshire Post says

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John Pienaar's name - in emboldened 18pt - emblazoned across the front, masquerading as some sort of floating byline, a very credible looking red-top newspaper has hit the doormats of homes in and around Leeds.

Such is the design, feel and tone of the 'North West Leeds & Wharfedale News' that any uninitiated member of the public could be forgiven for not being able to spot that this is not material hewn from the notepads of the trained and trusted local journalists they're accustomed to reading.

The election leaflet which has been distributed in Leeds by the Liberal Democrats

The election leaflet which has been distributed in Leeds by the Liberal Democrats

On the front cover of this four-page propaganda sheet - published on behalf of the Liberal Democrats - there is an imprint (in barely legible 6pt) to declare where the pamphlet was printed and who paid for the printing. It doesn't declare - as newspapers have to - that this is an advertisement / party political broadcast.
Turning inside there is branding splashed around from The Guardian and The Irish Times - all there so that in the readers' minds are echoes of trusted, reputable purveyors of news journalism. There's even a 'News Comment' piece inside, aping the age-old leading articles for which quality newspapers are famous.

In cross-heads in the splash 'story' it calls on the parlance of the trusted regional media: 'A strong local voice' it claims. Hardly. This is anything but. This is a piece of political propaganda masquerading as local news. It is duplicitous at best; cynical manipulation of the general public, at worst.

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Politicians are the first to cry foul at 'fake news' when they believe the media has not lived up to the highest professional standards of accuracy and integrity demanded of the Fourth Estate.

Yet here we have someone peddling imitation newspapers around the country in the hope that those reading them will be fooled into thinking the messages are checked and endorsed by the same local journalists who fought for their libraries; demanded their A&Es were saved; exposed that corrupt business person or found out the politician who was up to no good.

The front page of the "newspaper" which has been distributed in Leeds by the Liberal Democrats

The front page of the "newspaper" which has been distributed in Leeds by the Liberal Democrats

The Yorkshire Post is calling this out because when political movements impersonate us, we are undermined. When ordinary readers realise they've been hoodwinked by the medium that looks just like ours, the next time they come to read journalism produced by us, they will trust it that bit less.

This all leads to the powerful becoming more powerful; more insulated to scrutiny; less accountable to the public.

It has to stop.