Sometimes the campaigns that appear the most unthreatening and innocuous turn out to present the greatest danger – the type that use high-minded language and sentiment in an effort to appear respectable and uncontroversial. It is easy to fall prey to their apparent sincerity, to be seduced by their eminent reasonableness.
One such campaign is ‘Stop Funding Hate’, which, so it tells us, is striving to make our media less racist, less bigoted, less, well, ‘hateful’. Who could possibly quibble with that? Except that this isn’t the campaign’s real intention at all. The most cursory examination of this outfit’s activities shows that its ultimate desire is to snuff out opinions it doesn’t like. And it does this by publicly naming and shaming companies which advertise in newspapers whose editorial line it disagrees with. Stop Funding Hate hopes that this negative exposure will force these companies to boycott those newspapers in the future, and that this in turn will compel editors to toe the line – or even force the newspapers to go out of business.
Naturally it doesn’t target the Guardian or the New European, despite these newspapers having printed material that demonises sections of our population, most notably Leave voters. Instead, it aims its fire only at newspapers that print conservative opinions – such as those which take a robust line on immigration.
Now, you don’t have to be a regular reader of these newspapers, or indeed a supporter of their editorial stance, to defend the right of firms to advertise in them without fear that they will be subjected to a ruinous boycott – with the consequent destruction of many livelihoods. You just need to believe in the principle of a free press.
Worryingly, Stop Funding Hate’s methods appear over recent days to have become yet more sinister. After the Mail on Sunday ran a front-page story revealing that 10 Downing Street had launched a probe into alleged collusion between anti-Brexit MPs and EU leaders, the group went into overdrive, conducting an intensive (and somewhat hysterical) social media campaign heaping pressure on advertisers to cut all ties with the newspaper. The Mail on Sunday was apparently guilty of stirring up hatred against these MPs. But by anyone’s estimation the story that appeared was surely a legitimate one: if number 10 has launched such a probe, any newspaper, upon discovering it, has the right to bring the fact to its readers’ attention. This isn’t about ‘hate’; it’s about the public interest and the right to know.
A free press is a cornerstone of a civilised society. Without it, our liberties and freedoms are fatally eroded. For all their preaching about the need for tolerance, the folks behind Stop Funding Hate are about as intolerant as they come. We must not let these self-appointed censors win.