The “Stop Funding Hate” campaign to drive advertising out of the Sun, Daily Mail and Daily Express because of their positions on Brexit and immigration might not be making much of a dent in those titles’ fortunes, but it’s causing problems for campaign supporters.
Last month Evans Cycles said it backed SFH and would not pay for advertising which appeared on the papers’ websites, because they did not fit with their “core values”. It turned out the company did not book adverts with the papers, so there was little funding to stop. Now it emerges that the affront to Evans’ “core values” did not extend to their support for Sun publisher News UK’s cycle to work scheme.
And last week, senior figures at Impress, the alternative press regulator funded by the family of shamed motor racing tycoon Max Mosley and supported by the Hacked Off pressure group, were criticised after a probe upheld complaints about their social media endorsements for SFH.
The Press Recognition Panel (PRP), set up by the UK government to approve press regulators, ruled that posts and retweets by Impress chief executive Jonathan Heawood and other directors were a serious breach of the requirement of a regulator to be available to all publishers on “non-discriminatory terms”.
The PRP in effect said publishers of those titles could not be expected to sign up to Impress when several board members were supportive of efforts to harm them commercially. A contrite Heawood says he “let the side down” but it could be argued that he has revealed his side’s true purpose as a tool for a campaign against particular publishers.
Heawood and other directors have now been prevented from ruling on complaints about large publishers, a technicality because no large publishers are Impress members. But while he remains chief executive allegations of bias will remain.
The PRP is doing a review and may yet withdraw recognition, but doing so would destroy one of the few advantages Impress offers publishers, that of legal protection from punitive damages and costs in defamation and privacy cases should the UK government trigger Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act.
Impress has tried to tackle conflicts of interest but this is only one issue of a number raised by the News Media Association in its application for a judicial review of the recognition process. Even if the PRP maintains recognition for Impress, it is possible a court will rule that Impress should never have been recognised.
Five years on from Leveson, perhaps the next press campaign should be Stop Funding Lawyers.
John McLellan is director of the Scottish Newspaper Society and a City of Edinburgh Conservative councillor