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Changing the Narrative

Apr 3

Written by:
03/04/2018 13:36  RssIcon

Q&A with Richard Wilson, founder of Stop Funding Hate


Richard is due to speak at our event on challenging racism - Find out more.


Racial hate crime is on the rise in the UK, how is this being influenced by our press?

The last few years have seen a flood of negative UK press stories targeting certain groups – particularly migrants and Muslims. Things got so bad that in 2015 the United Nations put out a statement condemning “decades of sustained and unrestrained anti-foreigner abuse, misinformation and distortion” in the UK press.

The UN warned that “History has shown us time and again the dangers of demonizing foreigners and minorities, and it is extraordinary and deeply shameful to see these types of tactics being used… simply because racism and xenophobia are so easy to arouse in order to win votes or sell newspapers”.


Image: Daily Express coversImage: Daily Express covers


But unfortunately this warning seemed to go unheeded, and in 2016 we saw a further increase in anti-migrant front page stories – followed by a huge spike in hate crime.

All of us are affected by the messages that we see and hear. Although fewer and fewer of us are actually buying a national newspaper (more people follow Gary Lineker on Twitter than buy the Daily Mail, Sun and Express combined on any given day), the front page stories reach millions by being amplified through social media and in “What The Papers Say” slots on the BBC and other broadcasters.

When a particular group within society is relentlessly portrayed as a problem, a burden or a threat, it’s inevitable that this will eventually feed through into the way that this group is perceived and treated.

As long ago as 2010, experts were warning that hostile media coverage was fuelling a rise in anti-Muslim hate crime. In 2016, Leicester University’s Centre for Hate Studies warned that a wider surge in hate crime against migrants had been “fuelled and legitimised… by the media”, while Cambridge University highlighted that “Mainstream media reporting about Muslim communities is contributing to an atmosphere of rising hostility towards Muslims in Britain”.

Groups that support hate crime victims have told us that the language being used by perpetrators will often mirror the language used in national newspapers (for example certain groups being linked with particular types of crime).


How is your campaign, Stop Funding Hate, challenging racism? And where did the campaign come from?

Part of the reason we see so many divisive and inflammatory stories in the UK press is that hate sells. Running stories that play on fear and prejudice may be harmful to our society, but it can also be a very effective way of selling papers and boosting “clicks” online. This in turn boosts advertising revenue.

So our campaign aims to change those financial incentives. And we think that advertisers have a crucial role to play here. If enough advertisers can be persuaded to apply an ethical check when they’re deciding where to advertise – and ensure that they do not give advertising money to publications that fuel hatred against minority groups – this could tackle the problem at source by making media hate unprofitable.


Image: Stop Funding Hate


While newspapers like the Daily Mail may be impervious to public pressure, the companies we shop with do care what their customers think. So consumer power is the key to all of this. If enough of us speak out and use our voices as consumers, the advertisers will respond.

The starting point for our campaign was the huge spike in hate crime we saw in Britain in 2016.

But ultimately this is an issue that goes beyond the UK press – the last few years have seen a global profusion of online news sites that profit from racism, hatred and bigotry, alongside a surge in hate on social media.

Around the world there are now groups pushing back by mobilising consumer power to persuade companies to advertise more ethically.

Last month, one of the world’s biggest advertisers, Unilever, put out a statement promising that they “will not invest in platforms or environments that do not protect our children or which create division in society, and promote anger or hate. We will prioritise investing only in responsible platforms that are committed to creating a positive impact in society”.

If enough companies implement a similar approach, this could have a transformative effect on the media worldwide.


The campaign has gained a huge amount of traction. What do you think the key has been to making it so successful?

I think the fundamental reason for the campaign’s success is that a great many people in our society are personally affected by hate in the media – and many of us have been deeply concerned about this problem for a very long time.

If you think of all the different groups that have been targeted by the Daily Mail, Sun or Express in the last few years – and then add in everyone who may have a friend, colleague, neighbour or family member who belongs to one of those groups, that’s a large swathe of the UK population who have a personal reason to be concerned about this issue.

Secondly, we’ve also put forward an idea for tackling this problem that people can see might actually work. We aren’t just appealing to newspaper editors’ better nature – we’re “following the money”. We’re seeking to use our power as consumers to create a situation where advertisers and the media see that it’s in their interests to do the right thing.

And because it’s clear that the advertisers who have changed their approach (be that Lego, Paperchase or CentreParcs) have done so primarily in response to their customers speaking out – this is also an idea that a lot of people find very empowering: At a time when many of us have felt quite disempowered by the resurgence of racism and bigotry in the UK and worldwide, our power as consumers gives each of us something that we can do, individually, to push back.

The final point I’d make is that from the outset we’ve been working to ensure that this is an inclusive, apolitical campaign. Racism, discrimination and hate crime are issues that go beyond politics and affect people throughout our society.

So we think it’s vital that the campaign is open and accessible to all, and we’re proud to have supporters from across the political spectrum. We ground our work in a set of universal values that cross political boundaries – including empathy, civility, and neighbourliness – and ensure that everything we do is consistent with the principles outlined in the universal declaration of human rights.


Can companies themselves play a role in challenging racism?

Yes definitely. Obviously it’s essential that companies are actively committed to equality and diversity in the way that staff are treated. But businesses and business leaders also have a powerful role in influencing the wider public discourse.

With racism resurgent, it’s vital that everyone in a position of influence uses their voice to challenge the normalisation of hatred and discrimination, and defends those values that bring our communities together rather than dividing them.


Find out more about our Challenging Racism event which takes place in May. 









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