Many years ago, in those halcyon days when The Guardian could afford to pay freelancers, I was commissioned to write a piece on the beginnings of TV sponsorship. Shockingly, rules were about to be relaxed to allow commercial channels to seek sponsors for programmes (it was a very long time ago).
In my determination to prove how deregulation would crush creativity and compromise editorial independence, I interviewed sponsorship brand managers. They confirmed my worst fears. Cadbury was the most brutally honest, making clear that it had no intention of diluting its carefully curated family values by having Milk Tray or Fruit & Nut sitting alongside some Channel 4 documentary on paedophilia. QED.
Strangely, commercial television did not plunge into a creative or editorial abyss. And now much the same arguments of imperilling journalistic freedom are being levelled at the Stop Funding Hate (SFH) campaign, with a level of vituperation, intimidation and bullying that ought to shame the protagonists.
SFH has a perfectly simple philosophy: appeal to advertisers not to spend their money in newspapers that demonise foreigners and minority groups through deliberately divisive, distorted, hate-filled, and frequently inaccurate reporting. It quotes the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights who spoke in 2015 of the “decades of sustained and unrestrained anti-foreigner abuse, misinformation and distortion” in the British press, amid warnings from UK experts and charities that hate crime is being “fuelled and legitimised” by the media.
It is a long overdue initiative. As SFH points out, we are all indirectly funding the xenophobic, homophobic, and Islamaphobic agendas of those papers that hide behind the mantra of press freedom to justify their bile. And just as a free press is free to publish its vitriol, so a free marketplace permits consumers to boycott funders and lobby advertisers to withdraw support. That’s capitalism for you. That’s freedom for you.