What the Stop Funding Hate campaign might mean for freedom of speech in the media

A new campaign to challenge large companies with their advertising placement has been gathering momentum on social media. Between Thursday 10th and Monday 14th November there were nearly 60,000 mentions of the hashtag #StopFundingHate on Twitter, and this has not gone unnoticed. Lucie Paterson, our PR Account Executive, takes a look at the impact this may have on the media landscape and how we as industry professionals can learn from the campaign.

Stop Funding Hate puts a spotlight on large companies that advertise in tabloid newspapers that are notorious for their hateful stories, while the companies’ key messages support love and unity. In particular, newspapers such as The Daily Mail, The Daily Express and The Sun have become well known for their shocking – and at times offensive – headlines that target and victimise minority groups and immigrants, dividing the country and stirring hostility.

The problem is, the big companies advertising in these publications are the same ones that put out Christmas adverts about coming together, getting on and spreading love. In 2014 Sainsbury’s released a memorable and heart-warming Christmas advert based on the actions of British and German soldiers during WW1 on Christmas Day in 1914. The advert showed the opposing sides stopping fighting, putting down their weapons and venturing into no man’s land for a Christmas Day truce. John Lewis based its 2015 Christmas advert on the #ManOnTheMoon. Throughout the advert he was alone and divided from the world, and was shocked to receive a Christmas gift from a little girl on Earth to show he was loved.

It is argued by the Stop Funding Hate campaign that these companies are going directly against their values: spreading love yet paying for advertising to fund hate. The campaign calls for 2017 to be different, and for companies to stop advertising in these publications altogether until their negative editorial stance is abolished. LEGO has already put out a statement announcing it will stop advertising with The Daily Mail. The Co-op has committed to reviewing where it advertises. Companies such as John Lewis and Waitrose have not yet commented on their so-called contradiction. It is, however, generating a lot of talk on social media, with #StopFundingHate featured in 26,000 tweets about John Lewis’ latest Christmas advert with #BusterTheBoxer.

Arguably, newspapers have freedom of speech and can print news stories that are controversial to capture multiple perspectives. After all, we don’t all share the same opinion. Walkers, which does advertise with tabloids, has said that its advertising approach ‘isn’t determined by editorial stances of individual newspapers’. In other words, it is not advertising to promote the newspaper’s opinion but instead to directly target those reading it.

If advertising in these controversial newspapers stops, will it make a difference to the companies themselves? Do we even take note or click on these adverts in the first place? Research by HubSpot in 2015 suggests on average only 2.1% of people click on banner advertising on the internet. They are seen by over 50% of those surveyed as distracting, irrelevant and untrustworthy. Both print and online adverting is also very costly, so companies are not only facing the cost of placing the advert but also the cost of creating it and ensuring it creates an impact.

It isn’t all about the brands though: without this advertising and the money it brings, newspapers would no doubt struggle. These publications use the money from advertising to pay for (mostly) well-researched journalism. Without this income newspapers would have to look at other ways to make the money – such as erecting online pay-walls so that only those subscribed can read the news. With less money newspapers would be forced to make cuts which may mean they cannot report on new stories as quickly and frequently as they do now. We shouldn’t forget that Rupert Murdoch’s decision to close The News of the World was not solely based on the phone-hacking scandal, but the advertisers who began to pull out. Without advertising it is questionable if the targeted newspapers, both print and online, could survive.

The message of the Stop Funding Hate campaign is strong and certainly asks us all to reflect on what we are reading, and to stop supporting and sharing stories of hate. We must also remember that these are not just influencing adults’ views but children’s too. There exists a fine line between stories of public interest and sensationalism, but there is no justification for the The Sun to publish a story calling African migrants ‘cockroaches’ or for The Daily Mail to refer to immigrants as ‘The swarm on our streets’.

This is a welcome challenge to newspapers to change the way they report on sensitive and controversial issues, and we recognise that the majority of newspapers do also include interesting and well-reported stories every day. As an agency, it is our responsibility to make sure that what we are sending to the media is ethical and follows the CIPR’s (Chartered Institute of Public Relations) Code of Conduct. We are responsible for the stories we create and distribute and understand the need to be mindful of our audiences, particularly around sensitive topics.

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