In January 2021, the Evening Standard ran the headline, “Are you ready for a British Fox News? The people behind GB News hope so,” launching the publicity campaign for the new GB News TV channel.
Stop Funding Hate responded in February, urging advertisers not to fund a Fox News style channel, and raising concerns about importing this hyper-partisan, pundit opinion led model.
The chairman and lead presenter of GB News, Andrew Neil, has since rejected the Fox News comparison but both the FT and Bloomberg have noted similarities in the model. Neil has spent the time since positioning GB News and himself as leading the vanguard against ‘woke’ - defined in the dictionary as “Alert to injustice in society, especially racism”.
Who looks at Fox News and its promotion of climate change and public health disinformation, its peddling of conspiracy theories and incitement to hatred, and its pernicious impact on American society, and thinks “let’s import that to the UK”?
With such a divisive, expressly anti-social justice, and anti-equality pre-launch campaign, it is no wonder that #DontFundGBNews regularly trended before the channel aired, with Stop Funding Hate supporters contacting brands before final decisions were made on advertising.
GB News launch and the vilification of Stop Funding Hate supporters
In his opening monologue on launch night, Andrew Neil said “if you want fake news, lies, disinformation, distortion of the facts, conspiracy theories, then GB News is not for you.” Yet, it only took an hour for a presenter to rant that “doomsday scientists and public health officials have taken control”, were “addicted to power”, and running an “never-ending scare campaign” regarding public health measures. It was also not long for Nigel Farage to be given a platform to declare without challenge that Black Lives Matter is “Marxist” and “wants to bring down the whole of Western civilization”.
Disinformation and conspiracy theories were not the only immediate problem: adverts were running on the channel without the approval of companies. It seems media agencies had placed the adverts in breach of several companies’ procurement policies and brand safeguards, who immediately pulled the ads upon being made aware by Stop Funding Hate supporters.
Daily Mail, Daily Express, Telegraph, et al, alongside GB News, attacked advertisers that had spoken publicly. The Daily Mail even trawled through the social media histories of members of the public for no greater crime than politely contacting businesses they frequent. The most extreme examples they could find to quote included, “I will not spend any more of my hard-earned cash in your stores”.
Despite a great deal of time and resources, they found nothing objectionable in Stop Funding Hate’s communications with advertisers.
Neil’s monologue on Stop Funding Hate was perhaps the most remarkable response to the campaign - not least because of the threats made to advertisers if they did not continue to fund GB News, even though many ads had appeared by mistake.
“All these brands should understand, this boycott business can play both ways…If you add our audiences, our friends, our allies, our sympathisers, together we can muster millions of supporters on social media. It is not a good idea to be on the wrong end of them”, Neil said. “You’re in the politics business now...and like politicians you have to be held to account.”
For all the accusations, companies have freedom of choice over where they do or do not advertise. Exercising this right is not political and does not impinge on anyone's freedom of speech. Similarly, the public has free speech to engage companies on ethical issues and encourage ethical standards and has freedom of choice over where to shop or not shop.
Attacks on these basic rights are not only authoritarian and anti-democratic but anti-free market and anti-capitalist.
Ethical advertising emerges en masse
“GB News wants to be treated as a traditional ad-supported news channel, but it’s promoting itself as a politically opinionated combatant in the culture wars”, said the New York Times after GB News’ first week on air.
GB News cannot have it both ways. Why would advertisers want to fund attacks on, and attempts to politicise, their own company values and the good work they are doing in their businesses on a wide range of social and environmental issues?
As a result, over the first four days of airing, 15 companies pulled their advertising, all stating they were unaware that ads had been placed.