IN reference to the Warrington South Gazette ‘free newspaper’ that has been distributed to homes by the Liberal Democrats, it prompts the question should political parties be permitted to produce election material that resembles a local newspaper?

All three of the main parties attempting to win the December 12 poll have been producing partisan freesheets that appear to ape or at least resemble local publications.

Has the time now come for such practices to be banned completely, especially when an election is under way?

If a politician or their party can attempt to deliberately mislead you by cloaking their partisan messages in the disguise of an independent and trusted local newspaper, what else are they attempting to camouflage?

And while those behind such publications will argue there is no desire nor attempt to deceive by their actions and that – as Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson has said – this sort of practice is ‘as old as the hills’, that does not make it any the more acceptable.

If there is no wish to deceive then why give the publication a similar title to the existing independent newspaper in the area?

Surely it would be simple to brand the publications clearly with a party name and logo and leave no room for doubt it is not at all independent and impartial. And ensure there is clear information that the freesheet is not allied nor supported in any way by any and all local newspaper companies.

What irony that all of the main parties have pledged their support to protect and maintain a vibrant local press and yet then set out to undermine the public’s trust in the medium. Should a reader simply mistake a political freesheet for a version of their regular paper or, worse, believe their local editor has sided with one party over another then the destruction of decades, in some cases over a century, of impartial reporting will be assured.

While political advertising is permitted on both TV and radio – as well as in newspapers – there are strict, enforceable laws than ensure the public is not misled as to who is behind the message and how it is paid for. Yet as the current rules stand, political parties are free to pass-off their newsletters in the guise of local, trusted, independent newspapers with no consequences.

It is time the practice was brought to an end, for the sake of local newspapers but also, I would contend, for the sake of local politics.

The public are not fooled for long and will not forgive politicians who attempt to take them for mugs.

IAN MURRAY Executive director The Society of Editors