Brendan O’Neill

Stop Funding Hate: a nasty, elitist campaign for press censorship

Stop Funding Hate: a nasty, elitist campaign for press censorship
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Intolerance wears a progressive mask in the 21st century. Students hound political undesirables off campus in the name of ‘protecting diversity’. Adverts are banned from the London Underground in the name of women’s rights. Rappers and other hotheads are barred from Britain on the basis that their utterances are ‘not conducive’ to our good, progressive way of life. And now assorted leftists and tweeters are seeking to punish tabloid newspapers, to starve them of big revenue, in the name of promoting tolerance. Yes, intolerance - in this case of the redtop press and its right to say what it wants - is tolerance.

Stop Funding Hate is a new campaign aimed at getting big businesses — like Lego, John Lewis, Walkers Crisps, Virgin — to stop advertising in what are referred to as ‘hate newspapers’: that is, tabloids, primarily the Daily Mail. So leftists, who are meant to be anti-big business, and particularly anti big business sticking its moneyed, self-interested nose into political life and debate, are calling on big business to use its clout to harm newspapers that say disagreeable things. They want huge corporations — Virgin is a $19bn business, Lego a $5bn one — to put pressure on newspapers; to tell them we will stop giving you money unless you change your editorial tone. Let’s curb the euphemisms and all the talk of promoting tolerance — this is a sly, sinister effort to chill and tame the press; a marshalling of capitalist power to punish newspapers and force them to change. It’s a stab at censorship, not a cry for tolerance.

Stop Funding Hate is primarily concerned with the tone of the tabloids since the EU referendum. It doesn’t like what some of these apparently low, rude papers have said about immigration. Or judges. It was especially upset when the Mail branded the three judges who said Brexit should be ruled on by MPs as ‘enemies of the people’. Imagine that: a paper criticising the judiciary. This clearly cannot stand. Call in the capitalist class to punish these redtop upstarts, these wicked ridiculers of judges, these sewer-inhabiting critics of the powers-that-be.

I’m sorry, but when you plead with Virgin and Lego and huge stores to deprive the rabble-rousing press of funds because they are pro-Brexit, anti-judge and not in favour of mass migration, then you are engaged in naked political censorship. You are agitating for the rich to try to stop mass newspapers from saying what they think. The campaigners are actually open about this. One of the chief organisers of SFH says it’s about changing ‘the financial balance’ so that we ‘get to the point where… you don’t make money by publishing these headlines’. And so you stop publishing them. You stop saying things which, rightly or wrongly, you consider to be interesting or important or true, because some fat cat has threatened to defund your operation if you don’t. You have been forced to stop expressing yourself. Anyone who thinks this is ‘tolerant’ needs to buy a dictionary pronto.

Lego has said it is no longer advertising in the Mail, leading to much glee among these radical-but-really-conservative chillers of press freedom. One of their petitions crows that ‘the Daily Mail’s parent company is concerned that other companies will follow suit’ and that the paper will suffer as a consequence. I don’t care how much you hate the Daily Mail — these people are conspiring in the creation of a new and terrifying form of press censure.

SFH’s footsoldiers fancy themselves as liberal, hilariously, but actually they're following in the steps of others in history who likewise sought to tame papers through de-funding them or depriving them of advertising. In Italy in the 1850s, when government officials failed to close critical newspapers through ‘legal prosecution’, they would take various financial measures to ‘drive… opposition newspapers into bankruptcy’. In the US in the 20th century, the FBI knew it couldn’t outright ban problem papers, because of the pesky First Amendment, so instead it made ‘suppressive efforts to limit circulation and defund newspapers’. In Africa in the 1990s, authoritarian regimes used ‘advertising as an instrument of censorship’, as one account puts it, where officialdom would threaten to ‘withdraw its advertising’ from troublesome newspapers, leading to a situation where ‘many newspapers [decided] to censor themselves to avoid closure’.

SFH’s agitation to pull ads from newspapers is not some simple, good, happy-clappy act of consumer caring. It’s the attempted use of financial power to whack tabloid freedom in a similar way to how the FBI and African dictators once sought to harm the radical press. And like all efforts at press censorship throughout history it is motored by a profound distrust in, even disgust for, ordinary people. SFH says it is hounding the tabloids because they ‘whip up hatred’, and ‘words matter as they are often the first step towards actual violence’. In short, the dim, putty-minded tabloid reader might be turned into a violent animal by skim-reading a Katie Hopkins column on immigrants. Progressive? Please. This is elitist, repugnant and illiberal, as are all attempts at press censorship.