Advertisers Reject Attempts to Curtail Press Freedom

Advertisers, media agencies and news media publishers have come together today to issue an unequivocal rejection of attempts to censor the press by encouraging advertisers to boycott newspapers.   

Responding to calls by lobby group Stop Funding Hate for advertisers to boycott newspapers whose editorial lines the group disagrees with, the Advertising Association, ISBA, and News Media Association have issued strongly worded defences of press freedom and the right of brands to choose where they advertise in line with their commercial interests.  

In a statement the Advertising Association, representing advertisers, the agencies and the media owners, said: “The UK has a free press and advertising plays a vital role in funding that free press, which in turn plays a vital part in protecting our democratic freedoms.

“We believe pressure group lobbying of this kind has negative implications for our press freedom, by seeking to harm newspapers’ commercial interests and thereby influencing their editorial policy.

“Advertisers are free to choose where they do and don’t advertise and should do so, based on what they believe will work best for their customers and their brands, not on the media’s editorial stance. We applaud the vast majority of advertisers that have stood firm on this principle. 

 “At the same time, media owners must be free to determine their editorial policies and ultimately people are free to choose to read them or not. This process should not be subject to external threats and intimidation, nor direct or indirect commercial pressure from advertisers, or we put our free and competitive press at risk.”

In a statement ISBA, who represent UK advertisers, said: “As a basic principle, advertisers should take the view that they must not seek to influence editorial or content policy. This is a matter for publishers and regulators.

“There are very good reasons for this process.  We live in a democracy where publishers are not censored by the Government. We shouldn’t take for granted the freedom of the press, even as we are absolutely right to challenge the fairness and accuracy of its reporting.

“Advertisers of course have the right to choose where to place advertising and some contexts will be more suitable for their brands than others. Every advertiser can and does make its own decision.”

The NMA added: “The news media industry condemns the actions of political activist groups such as Stop Funding Hate which seek to bully and manipulate advertisers into changing their advertising strategies in order to further their own press censorship aims. 

“This amounts to a dangerous and wrongheaded attack on press freedom and we stand together with advertisers and media agencies in wholeheartedly rejecting this attempted commercial censorship.”

Major advertisers such as John Lewis and M&S have also been targeted by Stop Funding Hate but have rebuffed demands for them to change their advertising strategies. John Lewis has said: “Withdrawing advertising on the basis of editorial coverage would be inconsistent with our democratic principles, which include freedom of speech and remaining apolitical.”