“Freedom for the wolves has often meant death to the sheep” - Isaiah Berlin
Something very dark is happening in the US and the UK and elsewhere in the Western democracies. Hatred towards minorities - Muslims, women, blacks, the disabled, Jews, poor people and more - is becoming more acceptable, more mainstream.
Some people have brought some light into the darkness. They have found a smart way to help fight the growing fomenting of hatred. They are persuading major advertisers to boycott the media outlets at the forefront of promoting it.
Under pressure from these activists, in the US, Kellogg’s have withdrawn their advertising from the so-called Alt-Right website Breitbart; in the UK, Lego has withdrawn advertising from the Mail.
“Alt-Right” is a term invented during 2016. It is used by a variety of White Supremacist groups. It can be understood as a synonym for neo-fascist. The well-funded Breitbart website has been at the forefront of the Alt-Right movement, which is closely linked to Donald Trump. It’s former CEO, Stephen Bannon, is now Trump’s “senior adviser”.
A campaign group, Stop Funding Hate, has identified three newspapers in the UK which “use fear and division to sell more papers” - the Mail, the Sun and the Express. All three are owned by tax-cheating billionaires: - the Mail by Lord Rothermere; the Sun by Rupert Murdoch and the Express by pornographer Richard Desmond.
As a result of pressure from Stop Funding Hate, Lego has withdrawn its advertising from the Mail.
Stop Funding Hate said in a statement welcoming Lego’s decision, “We are asking brands to listen to their customers when they tell them they want to stop funding hate, and that is what Lego has done. People are becoming more aware that the money they spend could end up supporting publications, whose stories, language or portrayal of certain people fuels division…These headlines harm people.”
Some express unease or even horror that outside bodies are seeking to affect the content of the “free press”. Apart from other powerful considerations, this overlooks how things have been operating up to now.
In his landmark book Manufacturing Consent, Noam Chomsky shows in detail how advertisers have always exerted a powerful effect over media outlets.
Last year, Peter Oborne resigned as chief political commentator of the Telegraph in protest at the way that the paper was allowing HSBC - a very significant advertiser - to dictate coverage of its own affairs and even of matters relating to China.
Hannen Swaffer, who worked in the old Fleet Street for over half a century from 1902 and was one of the best known journalists of his day made this telling observation: - “Freedom of the press…is freedom to print such of the proprietor’s prejudices as the advertisers don’t object to.”
Under attack, Breitbart is acting in the way that the Alt-Right (and Trump himself) invariably respond. They are counter-attacking furiously. Breitbart has declared “#WAR” on Kellogg’s and called for a boycott of its products. It has put out a statement: - “For Kellogg’s to blacklist Breitbart in order to placate left-wing totalitarians is a disgraceful act of cowardice…If you serve Kellogg’s products to your family, you are serving up bigotry at your breakfast table.” The sheer gall of Breitbart accusing Kellogg’s of bigotry is breath-taking.
Dominic Ponsford, the editor of the Press Gazette in the UK has attacked Stop Funding Hate. He asks, “do we really want advertisers seeking to influence editorial decisions?”
Given Ponsford’s job, it is hard to think he could be ignorant of the longstanding relationship between media and advertisers. His question is highly disingenuous.
Ponsford also asks,“what right do a few thousand people on social media have to dictate the type of coverage read by several million every day?”
Surely, now more than ever - with the increasing threat of toxic divisions being deliberately created in our society - it is absolutely the right of every citizen to seek to curb in any way they can the fomenting of hatred of minorities whatever its source?
There is a moral imperative to act. It is right and proper for decent people to ask decent brands to stop funding hate.