I was at dinner with my friend Richard in August when he told me he was planning to start a petition asking Virgin Media to stop advertising in The Sun. I wanted to help straight away.
I’ve been working in human rights for a few years now and the hateful reporting of certain newspapers has always seemed completely at odds with the values that I hold dear: decency, equality and respect.
But this year it got to a point where I couldn’t just do nothing anymore.
Headlines demonizing refugees and migrants, women, people who claim benefits, the list can go on. Scare stories about a ‘swarm’ of ‘invaders’, ‘milking Britain’s benefits’ and ‘stealing jobs’ have become so commonplace we almost stop noticing them.
‘It’s not enough to just to not buy the papers anymore’
When The Sun called migrants ‘cockroaches’ in 2015 even the UN human rights commission intervened noting ‘decades of sustained and unrestrained anti-foreigner abuse, misinformation and distortion’ and urged ‘UK authorities… to take steps to curb incitement to hatred by British tabloid newspapers, in line with the country’s obligations under national and international law.’
So it’s not enough to just to not buy the papers anymore. We need to take positive action. And that’s why Stop Funding Hate exists.
We aim to give a voice to customers who have had enough of their money being used to fuel hatred, discrimination and demonization.
We duly got started on social media. A friend made us a video. And within a week it had racked up 5million views.
I didn’t expect this level of response, but I’m also not surprised by it.
What has surprised me is how affected I’ve been hearing the stories of people affected by hate speech in the media.
Thousands of people emailed John Lewis this week, asking them to stop advertising in the Daily Mail. Some sent me what they had written – and they were heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time.
One man told John Lewis how as a teenager he watched his mum read the Mail and repeat back to him some of their hurtful and homophobic language. As a young gay man, it deeply upset him that this hatred had made its way into his home.
Their recent attack on an ‘openly gay’ judge brought it all back to him. He ended his personal story by politely asked John Lewis to apply their rigorous ethical standards to all aspects of their business and reconsider their advertising policy.
All he got back was a stock answer saying that the company did not make editorial judgments on the newspapers in which it advertises.
‘There is increasing hostility towards anybody who isn’t British born and bred’
And then there the are people I know personally. My friend Leila, who has now joined the campaign, came to the UK as a refugee when she was a baby.
‘Some newspapers are inciting hatred against people like me. There is increasing hostility towards anybody who isn’t British born and bred.’
Knowing that someone I care about feels this way upsets me. But it also spurs me on. Everyone who works on Stop Funding Hate has either been affected by hate or knows someone that has. And that’s true for all of us. It could be you, a friend, a colleague or a family member.
I’ve personally felt hate just for being a woman, which is pretty ridiculous in 2016.
This hate, then, affects everyone. But I’ve come to realize that that is what gives us power. As humans and as consumers: together, we’re the majority. And the response the campaign has received, shows that there are enough people out there who care.
In just four months Stop Funding Hate has already had a huge impact. The Co-op has agreed to review its advertising policy at its next Annual General Meeting. The Phone Co-op came out publicly saying that advertising in the Mail, Express or Sun would go against their ethical standards.
And Lego, a huge global brand, has ended its relationship with the Daily Mail for the foreseeable future.