M&S has pulled its adverts from Google, so why not the Daily Mail?

Last week it was confirmed that a host of household brands, including Marks and Spencer, have withdrawn their advertising contracts with Google for fear they have been placed next to hate speech and extremist content.

Google, meanwhile, was summoned to parliament to explain its failure to protect companies’ brands and MPs have threatened fines for failure to tighten up on content controls. But while these decision makers and “values-driven” businesses are grappling with the unwieldy beast that is the internet in an effort to protect their brand, they’re refusing to acknowledge a much more familiar foe: the printed press.

The British mainstream press is a place of hate and disdain for so many communities: women, LGBT people, young people, Muslims, and particularly for migrants. A report by the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) specifically called out the UK tabloids for their “offensive, discriminatory and provocative terminology” as a contributing factor to hate speech and racist violence.

Reporting of migrants is particularly biased. It seems every day (certainly pre-election and referendum) we are flooded with panic-pushing stories about immigration, and the word “migrant” has become a pejorative term hardly associated with a human being. A study by The Migration Observatory at Oxford University examined thousands of news stories and found “illegal” to be the word most frequently used to describe immigrants, and the overwhelming sentiment is negative.

The Sun and the Express are blatant in their fear mongering and hate, while others, the Daily Mail leading the pack, employ a more subtle, but just as persistent bias.

After the dreadful attack at Westminster, the Mail Online featured a comment piece by Katie Hopkins - possibly best known for her article in the Sun, where she likened migrants to cockroaches and advocates using gunships to deter them. Hopkins seethingly refers to “these people” who have “left their lands [but] have brought every tension, every conflict, every bit of fight here with them.” Despite the fact that the attacker was born and lived his life in Britain. He was mixed race, with a black father and white mother, not Asian, as she readily claims. It is completely outrageous that such racial pigeon-holing and shameless shoehorning of erroneous hostility to migrants is now commonplace in our mainstream media.

If there was any doubt as to the Mail’s blatant peddling of anti-migrant panic, it only takes a look into the comments section of the Mail online to see the effect of its hate-mongering. Last Tuesday, the almost innocuous headline “Migrant crossing season begins and it's 'worse than ever',” brings to mind the idea of migrating animals rather than desperate people whose lives are at risk. As usual, the comments section is a breeding ground of racist nationalism. “Stop rescuing them and they will stop coming”, “repel them at any cost,”: the overwhelming rhetoric conjures images of vermin needing to be driven out, exterminated even, rather than deserving people in need of rescue. And all the while, these biased stories and dreadful comments are framed by M&S banner ads declaring “For mother’s day, with love”. Hardly.

By posing as a reputable news source, the Daily Mail is facilitating the mainstreaming of this hateful discourse. It’s condoning the attitudes in those comments sections, the brutal wishes of its readers for the deaths of human beings, based on their nationality, race or religion. And by choosing to pour huge sums of funding into advertising contracts with the Mail, M&S legitimises this approach. Putting their brand, a British institution, next to this hate-filled nationalism, is like a stamp of approval for some new, twisted version of British values.

In context, it seems absurd to have such a fuss kicked up over an M&S advert placed next to a white supremacist video in some dark depths of YouTube, when every day, the company pours cash into ads on the Daily Mail website, in the pages of the paper and giving discounts to its most loyal readers. If there’s a sure way to damage their family-friendly reputation for “doing the right thing, not the easy thing”, as M&S proudly states in its company values, it’s having your logo next to the racism, hate and outright wickedness that is the Daily Mail comments section.

The move by the likes of M&S to pull their ads from Google shows that, at least for some companies, the importance of public perception of their values outweighs the potential for profit-making. It would be a heartening gesture if it was consistently applied. But it’s not. M&S appear to have drawn a line in the moral sand and said that one form of hate is worse (and worse for their brand) than another. For a company that holds “integrity” as a core value, this failure to practice what they preach seems like a gross lapse in ethics.

It’s a tough decision, of course, to pull advertisement from the most-read paper in the UK. The Mail online is the sixth most-visited news site in the world. The marketing potential is enormous. But then so is its influence; its ability to peddle division and hate amongst the masses. M&S needs to decide it’s role in this. They need to get their values straight.

At Global Justice Now, we believe there’s a clear line between freedom of speech and hate speech. We don’t want to see the worst sentiments in our society moved from the fringes to front and centre; normalised and accepted. And we don’t want to see respected household brands fund and legitimise hate and xenophobia through their advertising. We’re asking Steve Rowe, CEO of Marks & Spencer to stop funding hate by pulling the company’s advertising contracts with the Daily Mail, and our supporters all over the country are helping to ramp up the pressure in M&S stores, with our "secret shopper" campaign packs.

Take action: tell M&S to stop funding hate

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