Consumer pressure group Stop Funding Hate has been the focus of some controversy over the past few weeks – even more so than usual. It drew attention to the brands that were – knowingly or otherwise – advertising on GB News through Sky Media’s channels. Its goal by doing so was to remove the financial incentive for publishing what it considers to be hateful content.
As a result of that action across social media, it drew the ire of GB News’ most prominent figure, Andrew Neil, in addition to derogatory comments from The Daily Mail and The Daily Express that likened the group to the Kray Twins and urged readers to ‘strike a fatal blow’ against it. It also drew accusations from trade magazine Press Gazette that its main aim is the suppression of free speech.
Despite all this, Stop Funding Hate has in fact been developing more positive relationships with some of the titles it has been trading blows with. Its focus has shifted over the past few years, from being primarily aimed at three UK tabloids to taking a wider look at the entire media industry. The Daily Mail in particular is in conversation with Stop Funding Hate every few weeks, for instance.
The group’s co-founder, Richard Wilson, states that its ultimate goal is not to stifle free speech. Instead, he aims to develop those relationships with papers further, to facilitate conversations between the media and those who are often on the receiving end of what it considers to be hateful content – and to ultimately provide those groups with the tools they need to appeal on their own behalf.
The changing face of hate
Wilson says that when Stop Funding Hate began, it had a narrow focus on three titles - The Daily Mail, The Sun and The Daily Express. That has shifted.
“Essentially, we noticed there’d been a dramatic reduction in anti-migrant front pages across The Mail, The Sun and The Express. At the same time, people were coming to us and raising concerns about things in many other publications. So there is definitely less of a gulf between those titles and the rest of the UK media… it wouldn’t really make sense to just focus on those three publications, because you’re not going to solve the problem if that’s only what you focus on.”
Instead, he says Stop Funding Hate is focused more on issues facing individual groups rather than on news brands. He cites the negative coverage of travelers on Channel 4 as an example of such a flashpoint and notes that anti-trans coverage in newspapers has been a particular source of contention this year.
One of the frequent criticisms of Stop Funding Hate has been that it has positioned itself up as arbiter of what counts as ‘hate’. Wilson argues that the community-based set-up of the group actually defers that decision to the groups that are the subject of newspapers’ articles:
“Sometimes the dynamics of hateful and discriminatory media coverage are coded and not necessarily communicated in a way that everyone gets. So the people who are the authorities on this are the people who have to face that discrimination themselves directly. That’s who needs to make the judgement.”
The relationship between Stop Funding Hate and some of the brands it once focused on is indicative of wider cultural shifts within those newsrooms. A source familiar with The Daily Mail points out that it reached out to Stop Funding Hate to begin the conversation in the first place, which Wilson confirms. Its editor, Geordie Greig, has stated he wants to make the title ”a force for good” – it's even hired a top creative agency to communicate its new crusade.
Jake Dubbins is co-chair of the Conscious Advertising Network. He notes that there is frequent conflation in the public’s mind between The Daily Mail and its sister titles Mail Online and The Mail on Sunday, where in reality there is a division in terms of editorial talent and priorities. He states: "How can we possibly hope understand the experience of hate directed to individuals or groups if we do not even bother to actually listen to those people. It is great that the Mail are picking up this baton and engaging with affecting communities in a meaningful way. Generally we are seeing this trend across the industry. That said is really important though to differentiate the commendable work The Daily Mail is doing with the total lack of engagement at the Mail Online."
It’s a view that’s also expressed by Emma Harrison, the chief executive of refugee advocacy organization IMIX. She states that while The Daily Mail itself has reached out, she would like to see its sister titles provide greater balance in terms of how they cover immigration and the needs of refugees. The conflation between the newspaper and the online edition in the public’s mind, she says, obfuscates the progress that the Daily Mail is making in providing a more nuanced view on the topic.
Rizwana Hamid, director of the centre for media monitoring at The Muslim Council of Britain, said: “Since its inception in 2018, the MCB’s Centre for Media Monitoring has made a concerted effort to engage constructively with all UK media outlets including the Daily Mail on improving its coverage of Muslims & Islam. This has been via one-to-one meetings, telephone conversations around problematic coverage on the day of publication, formal complaints, roundtable discussions, report launches and Meet the Media events that we have organised.
"Thegroup managing editor at Associated Newspapers has always engaged with us and responded positively by taking on board many suggestions and recommendations. The Mail Online, however, where most of the problematic coverage of Muslims & Islam appears, has been less willing to engage with CfMM. We complain to them about their misleading or inaccurate headlines and content more often than we do to any other news outlet and yet very little is taken on board to try and change this clickbait practice it has to drive readers to its site."
The relationship between IMIX and The Daily Mail was facilitated by an introduction by Stop Funding Hate, with Wilson saying: “The bottom line for me is, if The Daily Mail wants to move in a more positive direction, it’s not really me it needs to persuade or consult – it is organizations supporting and representing groups most affected by The Daily Mail’s coverage. It is public knowledge already that it has spoken to the Muslim Council of Britain, for example.”
There will always be clashes between advocacy groups and newspapers, and the definition of ‘hate’ is entirely subjective. What is absolutely clear, however, is that loggerheads and disingenuous accusations of free speech suppression do nothing to help the situation. If staff at The Daily Mail, Stop Funding Hate, IMIX and more can have open conversations about being more balanced, then those clashes might be ameliorated.