The Liberal Democrats have been accused of misleading voters after posting leaflets through doors that were made to look like local newspapers.
The story emerged after it was reported by Hold The Front Page, who reported that Lib Dem leaflets had been distributed around the county of Hampshire.
The leaflet resembles a newspaper and even bears that name 'Mid Hampshire Gazette' and even boasts the headline 'Paula Ferguson leads the way.' Ferguson is the parliamentary candidate for Winchester.
Elsewhere on the cover of the 'free newspaper', Jo Swinson is described as 'The Prime Minister Britain Deserves' but there is no clear evidence that this is a political leaflet, other than the mention of the Liberal Democrats.
Toby Granville, the editorial director of Newsquest, called the stunt 'outrageous' and criticised the party for distributing the leaflet in the same area as the Basingstoke Gazette, which incidentally is a completely separate constituency to the one Ferguson is running in.
Speaking to Channel 4 News, Katie French the editor of the Basingstoke Gazette accused the Lib Dems of a 'flagrant attempt to manipulate voters.'
It is deeply worrying that despite much debate about transparency and honesty, the Liberal Democrats here in Hampshire have shamelessly exploited the trusted format of a local newspaper for their own political gain.
This is nothing more than a political advertisement dressed up as a newspaper. The look and feel of this advertisement is very convincing and readers will have to spot the small print in the top right corner to see the so-called Mid Hampshire Gazette is published by the Liberal Democrats.
This is a flagrant attempt to manipulate voters by presenting them an advertisement in the form of a front page news story. Frankly it is insulting to the public who deserve better from one of the leading political parties.
It is also offensive to local journalists, including my team, who work very hard to be the trusted and balanced voices in the community.
As non-broadcast political adverts are largely exempt from regulation, we will be writing a letter of complaint to the Liberal Democrat party
Other Lib Dem 'papers' have since cropped up on Twitter with James Mitchinson, editor of the Yorkshire Post lambasting the party for spreading'fake news' after leaflets resembling local publications were found in North West Leeds and Wharfedale as well as Harrogate, Knaresborough and Boroughbridge.
“John Pienaar’s name emblazoned across the front, masquerading as some sort of floating byline...this is duplicitou… https://t.co/z1dXmPjnUY
In response, a Liberal Democrat spokesperson defended the campaign tactic. Speaking to Channel 4 News they said:
Liberal Democrats pride ourselves on working hard locally all year round on the issues that matter to local people. During an election period this even more important and we are committed to informing people about the issues that matter to them.