Campaigners urge advertisers not to fund “Fox News style” channels in Britain

Richard Wilson, Director of Stop Funding Hate, looks at the impact that GB News could have on the UK, and explains why companies should not support it.

Are you ready for a British Fox News?”, asked the Evening Standard, twelve days after a violent mob stormed the US Capitol, in an attack widely believed to have been spurred on by conspiracy theories broadcast via the Murdoch-owned channel.  

Fox News is notorious for racism, climate change denial, and dangerous misinformation on COVID19. Its toxic business model of using inflammatory commentary to boost ratings – and thereby also advertising revenue – has even led some to characterise Fox as a “hazard” to US democracy.

So talk of multi-million pound plans to “test whether there is appetite for a Fox News style channel in the UK” has caused growing concern.

Polarising UK news

Reports first surfaced in August 2020 that the former Downing Street Director of Communications Robbie Gibb was raising funds to launch GB News, a 24-hour “Fox News style” channel to challenge the BBC. Gibb was quoted as suggesting this was necessary, in part because Britain’s globally-respected public service broadcaster had been “culturally captured” by “woke-dominated group think”.

Meanwhile, Rupert Murdoch’s News UK – part of the media group that launched the original Fox News – was reported to be working on a rival “Fox News style” TV channel of its own.

Soon afterwards it was revealed that the UK Government is planning to put the controversial former Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre in charge of the broadcasting regulator Ofcom, which will oversee GB News as well as the BBC.  

With our country already heavily polarised by political division, amid the deadliest pandemic in a century and challenging economic times ahead, many feel that the “Foxification” of our broadcast media is the last thing Britain needs.

History reminds us that at moments like these there is a heightened danger of minority groups being demonised and scapegoated for society’s problems.

As one commentator put it: “Imagine being the country that has watched the last four years unfold in the US, with its bloodlines so easily traceable to the Fox sensibility, and is nonetheless thinking: let’s have a bit of that”.

Companies urged not to advertise

Following months of media articles trailing these channels, #StopFundingHate supporters began taking action in February, urging advertisers not to fund “Fox News style” media in Britain.

The #DontFundGBNews message quickly went viral, with over 12,000 tweets using the hashtag on the day that our campaign action launched.

We know that these tactics can be effective. #StopFundingHate supporters have already seen significant results challenging the Sun, Daily Mail and Daily Express by using our collective voice as consumers to engage with advertisers.

Most major advertisers want to appeal to as wide a range of consumers as possible. Thus for many big brands, being aligned with inflammatory content that may alienate a whole section of their customer base is simply not in their commercial interests.

However, we also know that in many cases brands will prefer to back away quietly rather than making a public statement that could fuel further controversy.

In 2019 Stop Funding Hate learned that at least 265 brands had dropped the Daily Mail prior to their decision to begin efforts to “detoxify” – a far higher number than had spoken out publicly.

By engaging with advertisers in the run-up to the launch of GB News, Stop Funding Hate supporters have been working to reach as many brands as we can before final decisions have been made and advertising contracts agreed. We also hope to make companies aware of the scale of popular opposition to “Fox News style” media – and the risk to their brand of aligning with any outlet that goes down that road.

The feedback we’ve seen so far suggests that the message has been getting through, with the controversy prompting significant debate within the UK advertising industry press.
 
GB News front-man Andrew Neil has also now publicly responded to our campaign, and insisted that – despite the recent headlines heralding a “British Fox News”  – the new channel will not, in fact, be seeking to replicate this toxic model.

Meanwhile, Byline Times has reported that former Downing Street staffer Robbie Gibb is no longer involved in the project.

While these commitments may bring some reassurance, the aggressive positioning of GB News as an anti “woke” TV channel is likely to raise ongoing concerns. At a time when brands have more choice than ever about where they do and don’t advertise, many will doubtless be asking themselves whether GB News is a controversy that they need to be dragged into.

Find out more and support the campaign on the Stop Funding Hate website.