Advertisers need to quit funding mainstream media’s promotion of hate speech

Advertisers and audiences need to take decisive action to combat the barrage of hate speech appearing in the mainstream media, argues MediaScope’s Denise Shrivell.

Last Sunday night, Seven in Melbourne ran an ‘exclusive’ news piece covering a meeting with representatives from a far right extremist group, featuring a spokesperson who is known to have expressed neo-nazi views.

The report was a continuation of recent mainstream editorial coverage and divisive political statements expressed in the Australian media.

This far right extremist group gathered to discuss recent issues around reported crime in Victoria – with a particular focus on youth crime within the Australian-African and Sudanese community.

Police and community requests for responsible, fact based commentary, citing impacts to our Australian-African community and concerns on divisions within our broader community were ignored.

The meeting of the far right extremist group came about as a direct result of politicised and misleading statements from several of our politicians and then corresponding inflamed editorial coverage within our mainstream media.

While not the only media organisation covering these issues, Seven has attracted strong condemnation for pushing the views of a neo-nazi into the mainstream through its ‘exclusive’ interview. Critical articles have been published in mainstream and independent media (some of which have published inflamed content themselves), with people on social media, politicians, community leaders and experts also highly critical.

This criticism has turned into calls on social media for audiences to boycott Seven and other mainstream media organisations, with grass roots activist movement Sleeping Giants Oz, backed by its growing supporter base, actively alerting marketers and asking them to drop their ad spend.

A look through some of the coverage appearing across the mainstream news cycle is instructional – particularly when considering in early January there were reports ‘African gang crime’ was being specifically “manipulated by our Federal Government to create community fear for political gain”.

Fairfax ran an op-ed from a Sudanese community leader who has since been called out for misrepresenting himself.

The Herald Sun, who experts say invented the original ‘Apex Gang’, has been running sensational and divisive front pages.

The Daily Mail was directly accused by police of provoking a flare up with youths from the Australian African community.

And over on broadcast media, such as shows like A Current Affair have picked up up these narratives and ran with them.

Sleeping Giants Oz note that as of the 16th January the Australian has run fifteen issues straight denigrating African people in Victoria.

Credit: Sleeping Giants (click to enlarge)

In an article for the Guardian, Jason Wilson noted a broader issue: “The reason Australia has never given birth to a Breitbart-style far right outlet is that there is no niche for them to occupy. The country’s print media market is dominated by outlets whose politics – on immigration, culture wars, and the “war on terror” – are indistinguishable from websites that elsewhere, dwell on the margins.”

In 2017, US commentator Sarah Kendzior highlighted the negative community impact of this type of journalism and the role of politicians and media.

Advertising activist movement Sleeping Giants has taken over 3,000 advertisers off US extreme right site Breitbart. The organisation is now in the Australian market as Sleeping Giants Oz, and is directly targeting “hate speech in the media by stopping its ad dollars”.

They told me: “Sleeping Giants Oz launched 14 August 2017 and took local businesses and the advertising industry by surprise at their lack of awareness of where their ads were appearing.

“In line with our US counterpart we initially focused on Breitbart. Most companies we notified were quick to act and exclude Breitbart. In this short time, 107 Australian-based companies have excluded Breitbart from their ad buy.

“To their credit, we believe the advertising industry in Australia has responded with equal urgency, we are getting fewer reports every week, despite an expanding follower base.

“Our greatest challenge now is convincing companies and the industry that they have the power to influence discourse in the mainstream media space and that Australia has a problem with normative hate speak in our newspapers (print and digital), on our TVs and on the radio.”

In March last year, MediaScope recorded a podcast with the founder of a UK version of Sleeping Giants, Stop Funding Hate, and Sydney-based media academic Jenna Price, where we discussed Stop Funding Hate’s aim of identifying and asking marketers to stop their advertising support of divisive British tabloids. Take a listen here.

Changing media usage habits and the pull of technology platforms such as Facebook and Google are usually blamed for the decline of audience – and revenue – in mainstream media.

But audiences and advertisers intentionally fleeing from mainstream media as a reaction against misleading, biased, partisan, inflammatory journalism and hate speech also requires some recognition.

The responsibility of media and journalism in our community and our democracy – particularly in such a concentrated media ownership landscape – is an issue to be taken seriously.

Denise Shrivell is the founder of MediaScope.


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