Stop Funding Hate campaign urges firms to halt advertising in ‘inflammatory, divisive’ newspapers

Lucy Purdy

A campaign calling on advertisers to boycott newspapers that promote “demonisation and division” is also asking the public to lobby the advertisers in a positive, constructive way

As the dust settled on the Brexit vote earlier this year, experts at the University of Leicester warned that hate crime was being “fuelled and legitimised” by some of the UK media. This spurred the formation of Stop Funding Hate, a campaign group of people who met online who were horrified by the upsurge in hate crime following the vote.

Stop Funding Hate is asking big companies to drop advertising contracts with newspapers that campaigners believe promote hate and division. The group was plunged into the spotlight at the weekend when Danish toy manufacturer Lego announced it would no longer run promotional giveaways with the Daily Mail.

British parent Bob Jones had written to Lego, expressing concern over the company’s relationship with the newspaper, suggesting that the paper’s headlines “create distrust of foreigners” and “blame immigrants for everything”. The Independent newspaper reports that Lego confirmed the decision to be directly linked to Stop Funding Hate’s campaign.

Stop Funding Hate is now urging retailers including John Lewis, Waitrose and the Co-operative Group to follow Lego’s lead. Since August, the group’s launch video has been viewed more than 6m times and the group’s Facebook page has more than 185,000 ‘likes’.

So what is is resonating with so many people?

“The Daily Mail, Daily Express and the Sun have run demonising and dehumanising headlines for the whole of my adult life, but in recent years the problem has been intensifying,” Richard Wilson, Stop Funding Hate’s founder, tells Positive News.

“Last year the Daily Express ran nearly 50 front pages on migrants or refugees – almost all of them negative. This year isn’t yet over but the paper has already run more than 60 such front pages – more than one a week. And the Daily Mail is not far behind. At the same time we’ve seen a horrifying rise in hate incidents against a range of groups including Muslims and people from Eastern Europe.”

He says the response has exceeded all the group’s expectations. “It seems that our campaign has really tapped into a desire that many people have to push back against the culture of hate and everything that goes with it. Every day we get more offers of help and messages of support, which is hugely encouraging and inspiring.”

Our campaign has really tapped into a desire that many people have to push back against the culture of hate and everything that goes with it

In October, the Council of Europe – an international organisation focused on promoting human rights, democracy and the rule of law in Europe – warned: “It is no coincidence that racist violence is on the rise in the UK at the same time as we see worrying examples of intolerance and hate speech in the newspapers, online and even among politicians”.

Does the media have a responsibility to consider what impact its coverage has? Wilson believes emphatically that it does. “The reality is that inflammatory, hateful headlines can have hateful consequences,” he explains.

“We get that editors have to sell papers, and boost their advertising revenue. And we can understand why. With sales in decline, some newspapers have taken to running these divisive, misleading and fearmongering headlines in order to try to retain their market share. But people are suffering as a consequence: people who feel personally targeted by this coverage, people who are experiencing racism and xenophobia as a result of the climate which these headlines help to create.

“I have friends who came to the UK as refugees and when I was a teenager my mum taught English to refugees in an adult education college. So I’ve been aware for some time of the mismatch between the media’s portrayal of this issue and the reality of people’s experience.”

And while many would agree that media has a responsibility in terms of the stories it publishes, what about the responsibility of advertisers?

“Traditionally, advertising placement has been seen as somehow outside the realm of corporate ethics and social responsibility,” agrees Wilson. “But we think it’s time for that to change. We would like to get to the point where the social impact of advertising becomes widely recognised as a corporate social responsibility issue. Our long-term objective is to shift the balance of incentives so that running these kinds of hate campaigns costs newspapers more money through lost advertising than it makes them in sales.”

Traditionally advertising placement has been seen as somehow outside the realm of corporate ethics and social responsibility, but we think it’s time for that to change

And Stop Funding Hate believes that the best way to challenge a culture of hate is by not participating in it. How has the campaign itself sought to reflect this?

“Early on we added a line to our Twitter profile saying ‘Don’t hate the media – change the media’,” says Wilson. “We’d noticed that when people criticised the Daily Mail, Sun and Daily Express, some were using the same kind of demonising language that we have sought to challenge elsewhere. We think it’s vital that we avoid further exacerbating the polarised and angry discourse that currently surrounds the issues we are trying to address.

“We are every bit as opposed to the hostility and hate speech that has been directed towards the media as we are against hate speech in other contexts. And we know that there are people within these newspapers who are also deeply conflicted about what is happening. So whenever we’ve asked people to send messages to advertisers urging them to pull out of the Express, Sun and Mail, we’ve also tried wherever possible to ask that people do it in a civil and respectful way.”

Wilson points to Bob Jones’s message to Lego as an example, demonstrating that it’s possible to carry out campaigns online in polite and friendly ways: “His message starts with the line ‘I love Lego’. And this, in among all the other messages, was the one that finally convinced an advertiser to make this move of ending their advertising in the Daily Mail. So it’s not only right – it also works. Most recently, we’ve also started tweeting under the #GoodwillToAll – and we’re open to suggestions about other ways we can keep encouraging a positive, constructive tone.”

Lego flowers - Ale Art (Flickr)

Lego has announced it will no longer run promotional giveaways with the Daily Mail. Image: Flickr user ‘Ale Art

Stop Funding Hate has now launched a new, ‘brandjamming’ video – a pastiche of Christmas advertising videos made by major retailers – urging firms not to advertise in newspapers that promote division or intolerance. John Lewis and Waitrose have said they do not “make editorial judgment on a particular newspaper” while the Co-operative Group says it is reviewing its advertising but has not yet made a decision.

Match of the Day presenter Gary Lineker has backed Stop Funding Hate and recently asked Walkers Crisps to reconsider advertising in the Sun over the newspaper’s anti-refugee stance.

Main image: Anthony Brewster 


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