Several online newspapers in Africa have carried stories from satirical website Newsbiscuit reporting that Prime Minister David Cameron is aided in government by a deputy named Nick Clegg. The fictional character, created following the 2010 general election as a humorous plot device, has regularly been referenced within topical sketches as a latter-day Laurel and Hardy style figure serving as the butt of jokes covering a range of topical issues.
It is thought that the confusion first arose when Newsbiscuit cast Clegg in a sketch about university tuition fees in which the hapless character reneges on a promise not to increase the amount students have to pay. Zimbabwe's Standard on Sunday carried the story seemingly unaware of the ironic humour intended by the article.
A subsequent plotline was then erroneously picked up by the SpyGhana news website on Tuesday in which the Clegg character promises to staunchly oppose Prime Minister David Cameron on press regulation. A red faced spokesman for SpyGhana was forced to admit the mistake after readers pointed out that Cameron was obviously going to get his way.
Reading from a prepared statement Samuel Gyan apologised for what he described as an editorial mistake adding that in retrospect it was clearly implausible to think that such a buffoon of a character would be allowed to operate at the highest levels of government, blaming cultural differences in the use of irony for the misunderstanding.
It is not the first time a NewsBiscuit article has been taken seriously in Africa. In 2005, a story claiming that Prince Harry wore a swastika to a friend’s fancy dress party caused outrage until newspapers issued a correction.
Following the apology from Mr Gyan an unnamed Newsbiscuit executive suggested that the misreporting had mixed implications for the website: "Obviously we welcome the publicity – our website has registered a massive upsurge in web traffic – but things can only go downhill now for our Clegg storylines. I expect we will keep him running for now but write him out of our articles after the next election."