The Telegraph has been fined £30,000 for sending hundreds of thousands of emails on the day of the general election urging readers to vote Conservative.
In what he described as an “unprecedented step”, Daily Telegraph editor Chris Evans asked readers to back the Tories in a letter added to its daily email.
But data protection watchdog the Information Commissioner’s Office found the newspaper’s parent company, Telegraph Media Group, broke direct marketing rules.
The watchdog said subscribers might have signed up to receive a daily email, but promoting the Tory election campaign “crossed a line”.
“People may well perceive the paper’s editorial content to have a political bias, but when the Telegraph emailed people directly calling them to vote for a political party they crossed a line,” said Steve Eckersley, head of enforcement at the ICO.
In his letter, Evans described the 7 May general election as “the most important since 1979” and urged Telegraph readers to vote Conservative.
It added: “Do we continue under the Conservatives with the open, enterprise-led economic approach that has underpinned our prosperity for nearly 40 years? Or do we revert to an old-style, ‘government-knows-best’ culture championed by the most leftwing Labour leader for a generation?”
Eckersley said: “People signed up to the Telegraph’s email service so they could catch up on the news or find out about subjects they were interested in. They did not expect to be told who they should be voting for.”
The ICO said it accepted that Evans’s letter was only added to the usual mailing after a “last minute instruction from the editorial team”.
It said “pressure” to distribute it quickly meant there was not enough time to properly consider whether the “appropriate permissions were in place”.
“These circumstances, along with the small number of complaints (17), were factors when deciding the fine,” said the ICO, which has the power to impose a fine of up to £500,000.
“Regardless of the circumstances, this organisation fell short of the law and we have acted,” said Eckersley.
Some recipients had taken to Twitter to complain that they either did not know how the Telegraph had got their email address or saying they had only signed up for specific emails such as its technology or finance newsletters.
The email was sent on the same day the newspaper published a front page urging readers to vote Conservative rather than Ukip under the headline “Don’t do something you’ll regret”.