The Daily Mail vs Stop Funding Hate

Press Gazette reports:

The Daily Mail has described as “deeply worrying” a decision by cards and stationery retailer Paperchase to no longer run promotions in the newspaper following a backlash on social media.

A spokesperson for the Daily Mail… said: “It is it is deeply worrying that Paperchase should have allowed itself to be bullied into apologising – on the back of a derisory 250 facebook comments and 150 direct tweets – to internet trolls orchestrated by a small group of hard left Corbynist individuals seeking to suppress legitimate debate and impose their views on the media.

“Has the company considered what message they are sending to the four million people who read the Daily Mail on Saturday, many of whom will be their customers?

“It is one of the fundamental principles of free and fearless journalism that editorial decisions are not dictated by advertisers or commercial partners, and we are sure anyone who values freedom of expression will be as appalled as we are by Stop Funding Hate’s attempts to threaten the Mail and other newspapers.”

Paperchase probably made its apology for commercial reasons, although it is possible that the firm took a closer look at the Daily Mail‘s content and genuinely decided that the paper is incompatible with its corporate values. Inevitably, some individuals have taken to social media to express their intention to boycott Paperchase for having repudiated its promotion – presumably, that sort of consumer pressure is not “trolling”.

Stop Funding Hate is headed by Richard Wilson – I first became aware of him in 2005, when he wrote a letter to the Guardian about a massacre committed by an extremist Hutu group in Burundi the year before – the same group had murdered his sister in 2000, and this perhaps explains his particular aversion to hateful rhetoric and his concerns about where it may lead.

Since then I’ve been in direct contact with him once or twice, and I’ve followed his output on social media. I don’t recall seeing anything that would indicate that he’s a “hard left Corbynist”, and there is nothing specifically “Corbynist” about the inspiration or methods of Stop Funding Hate. However, I have formed a strong impression that Richard is consistently polite and to the point – as was in evidence when he appeared on Newsnight a couple of days ago, opposite Sarah Baxter of the Sunday Times.

Where is the “trolling” that Richard has supposedly “orchestrated”? I’m sure that the Daily Mail would have published examples of uncivil or harassing social media postings that may have influenced Paperchase, if any existed – no matter how trivial or distant from the campaign group. The antics of “Twitter trolls” are a journalistic staple, but one gets the impression that exposing genuine cases of anti-social online behaviour in the public interest is less of a priority than using the term simply to stigmatise unwelcome criticism.

The relationship between publishing/journalism and the commercial imperative has always been problematic – but the bottom line is that if I have a choice between spending money with Business A, which has a connection with an enterprise that does not accord with my values, and spending money with Business B, which does not have such a connection, why would I not prefer the latter, all other variables being equal? The consumer logic is inescapable, and has more force than the abstract question of whether negative consumer feedback to advertisers is “illiberal” (as argued by the Press Gazette‘s editor Dominic Ponsford). As Richard put it in December:

The philosopher Voltaire has been paraphrased as saying: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”. He never said “I will defend to the death your right to get advertising revenue”.

The Daily MailDaily Express and The Sun are free to print whatever they like within the law. We too have a right to speak out. And if the press refuses to act in the public interest, then we as the public are entitled to exercise our rights, and make our voices heard.

…Companies like Lego, John Lewis and the Co-op are entitled to choose where they advertise. And the public has a right to speak out and seek to influence those choices – whether the newspapers like it or not.

Incidentally, for what it’s worth I’m not among those who respond with a knee-jerk and dismissive disgust whenever the Daily Mail or the Mail on Sunday are mentioned. The Mail titles carry a lot of useful and/or entertaining material, and I’ve used their combined website as a source of information on this blog many times – indeed, on a couple of occasions I’ve even fed information to the one of the titles that has then appeared in stories. Most of the journalists are just trying to earn a living, and I’ve always resisted suggestions that I shouldn’t link to the site, or that I should use a service like Freezepage to avoid giving the site traffic.

However, the two papers are guilty of publishing stories in which journalistic integrity is subordinate to the editorial line or some other interest, and in some cases the resulting output is vicious and unfair. I strongly suspect that by the weekend we will see a highly intrusive article about Richard Wilson’s personal circumstances, in which readers are encouraged to regard him with contempt and to resent the financial value of his home (gratuitous references to property prices is a Mail speciality). Such articles serve the purposes of revenge and intimidation rather than the public interest, and it is this material, rather than criticism of the paper’s shortcomings, that insults the “four million people who read the Daily Mail on Saturday”.

UPDATE (25 November): Guy Adams attacks

As might have been predicted, the Daily Mail‘s top hatchet man Guy Adams has been tasked with bashing out a 3000-word diatribe on the evils of Stop Funding Hate, for the enlightenment of the paper’s “four million” Saturday readership.

Adams’s hit-pieces often have long scene-setting lead-ins, the supposed news value of which is not explained until the reader has waded through several hundred words. The tone is outraged and disgusted – it is difficult to read Adams without hearing the voice of Chris Morris in character as Ted Maul in Brass Eye.

In this instance, Adams begins with a lengthy discussion of one Sheila Sullivan, an overwrought Corbyn supporter who apparently uses Twitter to write insultingly about Conservative politicians and to promote conspiracy websites that blame “the Rothschilds” for conflict in Syria (I previously discussed “Rothschild” conspiracy thinking on the left here). What does she have to do with Stop Funding Hate or Richard Wilson? Nothing – her connection is simply that she has RTed a few @stopfundinghate Tweets to her 73 followers (built up since 2012). Adams describes her as a “self-appointed activist” for the group.

The article then goes on to present a few other “gotchas” harvested from random Twitter users who have dared to express support for the campaign. He writes:

[M]any of those who targeted Paperchase have used the internet on other occasions to troll politicians, journalists, celebrities and other public figures — while also spreading vile slurs about political groups they despise.

Obviously, his article is not a systematic survey, and he is only interested in examples that support his thesis. Adams’s “exposé” appears to be the remarkable discovery that people on the political left tend to dislike the Daily Mail, and that some of them are uncivil. But even Adams is obliged to admit that

Stop Funding Hate insist its campaign is ‘all about polite and friendly customer engagement’ and, to be fair, the social media messages sent on its behalf to advertisers are usually reasonable in tone.

Presumably this is included as a sop to regulators.

But if Stop Funding Hate is culpable because someone with unsavoury views agrees with its aims, what should we make of the sort of material posted by readers that so often appears under Daily Mail articles?

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