Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden has said the growing advertiser boycott of GB News is “worrying” and that the new channel is a “welcome addition” to the diversity of the UK media.
Around 11 advertisers are now confirmed to have suspended their marketing campaigns on the channel (full list of brands and their statements here).
Dowden told the Daily Mail: “One of the cornerstones of our liberties is our robust, free and diverse media and GB News is a welcome addition to that diversity.”
Referring to a video showing Newsnight political editor Nick Watt being chased through Whitehall at an anti-lockdown protest on Monday, Dowden continued: “As we’ve seen this week with the totally unacceptable harassment of a BBC journalist, we cannot take it for granted. It is up to brands to advertise where they wish, but it would be worrying if they allow themselves to succumb to pressure groups.
“They should note that GB News is regulated by Ofcom and held to the same high standards as every other broadcaster in the UK.”
Julian Knight, chairman of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, told the Mail: “This is the worst type of cancel culture. GB News is bringing a much-needed perspective to our media landscape.
“The brands that are pulling their advertising are frankly gutless and need to understand that the UK is a conservative country and will remain so for the foreseeable.”
The Boycott GB News campaign, led by the non-profit “progressive” digital campaigning platform Ripples, urges people to help stop the “biased” channel’s “fake news” and its “right wing, pro-government, pro-Brexit and coronavirus-conspiracist presenters”.
They are joined by long-standing campaign Stop Funding Hate, which has previously persuaded advertisers to part ways with the Daily Mail and The Sun. Its founder Richard Wilson has written that the “aggressive positioning of GB News as an anti ‘woke’ TV channel is likely to raise ongoing concerns”.
The group shared an article written by Wilson in 2016 in which he said the public has a “right to speak out” and is “entitled to exercise our rights, and make our voices heard”.
Press Gazette ran a snap Twitter poll for 30 minutes on Thursday morning asking if people think it is acceptable for brands to withdraw advertising from GB News in response to online campaigns or whether they are curbing freedom of speech.
Of 599 responses, 76% said it was okay for brands to do so, while 20% objected on freedom of speech grounds.
Poll: Is it ok for brands to withdraw advertising from GB News in response to online campaigns or are they curbing freedom of speech?
— Press Gazette (@pressgazette) June 17, 2021
GB News political correspondent Tom Harwood, who joined the channel from political blog Guido Fawkes, wrote for Mail Plus that the “left-wing mobs” trying to cancel it were “merely serving to show how needed GB News is in the first place”.
He said: “I get the feeling those who are trying to banish GB News before it has properly got going are utterly unrepresentative of the country at large and, in reality, all their attitude shows is just how needed GB News is after all.”
Pointing to audience data for GB News’ launch night on Sunday that put it above the BBC News and Sky News channels, Harwood added that this “shows the various sneering attempts to cancel or do down choice will ultimately backfire”.
Sunday Telegraph editor Allister Heath questioned why brands had decided they “cannot tolerate free speech and media plurality” yet trade in countries such as China and Saudi Arabia.
He wrote: “The boycott of GB News is a turning point for business. They must choose: are they for-profit ventures selling to customer-kings, or weapons of the Left, political organisations masquerading as commercial outfits, militating against freedom? If it’s the latter, the backlash, when it comes, will be ferocious.”
Piers Morgan said he would boycott Ikea in response to its statement that it had suspended display advertising and begun investigating how its ads appeared on GB News. He called the Swedish retail giant “pathetic virtue-signalling twerps”.
In the Times, former BBC analysis and insight editor Jawad Iqbal called the “premature” boycott “both sinister and stupid”.
He wrote: “The channel, which was good enough to pass the stringent tests set by broadcasting regulators, has been deemed beneath the standards of corporate giants such as Ikea, which have pulled their on-air advertising. Since when did it become the role of big business to police the parameters of acceptable public debate on television or anywhere else?”
The Independent’s economic commentator Hamish McRae predicted that the tumult will take weeks to settle down and the ultimate outcome will depend on GB News’ content over that time.
“If the fears of Stop Funding Hate prove justified, then GB News will indeed have a tough time recruiting and retaining advertisers,” he said. “On the other hand if it manages to establish a reputation for fair-minded, centre-right reportage and that pulls in prosperous viewers, then they will be an attractive market that advertisers cannot ignore.”
Press Gazette contacted a number of free expression campaign groups including Article 19, Index on Censorship and English PEN for this article but has yet to receive any response.
Picture: GB News/Screenshot