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Did Sainsbury’s really go woke over GB News?

Campaigning groups Led By Donkeys and Stop Funding Hate claim they forced Sainsbury’s to pull its advertising from GB News. But did they? And who decides what is hate?

Cancel Culture is rife these days. So much so that campaign groups are leading the ‘fight’ against news channels like GB News…

Campaigning group Led By Donkeys has been congratulating itself on Twitter for forcing Sainsbury’s to pull its advertising from new channel GB News. 

Along with Stop Funding Hate and its many supporters, Sainsbury’s was repeatedly targeted on Twitter with increasingly stringent demands to stop advertising on a channel that, according to them, “promotes hate.” In fact Stop Funding Hate tried to get GB News off the the air before it was even on the air. The pressure group sent hundreds of tweets to banks, mobile phone companies and other brands using the hashtag #DontFundGBNews. The assumption being it was hateful before a word was aired by anyone at GB News. But who decides what is hateful? 

I am no fan of GB News. In fact I’ve never watched it. However, I have no wish to stop others from watching it if they wish. To be on the air at all it must meet stringent demands from broadcasting regulator Ofcom. Led By Donkeys, Stop Funding Hate, and others may not like what GB News broadcasts but there is no law being broken here. Just because you may hate what someone says doesn’t make it hateful.

I felt deeply uncomfortable at the way Led By Donkeys thanked its followers and supporters with a “We did it!” message on Twitter. What, precisely, have they managed to do? Is the idea to force GB News off the air by targeting advertisers thus attacking the station’s ability to function? I can only assume that’s the ultimate aim. I’d love to be able to say what Led By Donkeys and Stop Funding Hate intended but despite sending them many messages politely requesting a comment they never replied. Didn’t even say they didn’t want to comment. GB News also didn’t reply to requests for a comment.

However, Sainsbury’s did. A spokesperson for the supermarket told me: “We are a non-political organisation. We advertise across a wide range of media outlets, including TV to reach all of our customers. Our latest multi-channel TV campaign, which has now ended, included a very small number of ads appearing during the GB News programme. Our customers’ feedback is very important to us, and we continue to regularly review our marketing activity.”

So it’s entirely possible Led By Donkeys and Stop Funding Hate achieved nothing. Seems Sainsbury’s current campaign was due to end anyway.

In the absence of Led By Donkeys and Stop Funding Hate confirming to the contrary I’m going to have to assume their ultimate goal is to get GB News off the air. If this succeeds it will be a terrible shame and here’s why. I never thought for one second GB News would succeed. I’ve always doubted there was a market for another news channel. There wasn’t one for ITV’s 24-hour news service – who remembers that? And Channel 4 News pulled its noon broadcast some years ago. The viewing figures for news channels are already incredibly low. Kay Burley is the star of Sky News and deeply loyal to the channel, she’s been a major news anchor since it began in 1989. Her breakfast show gets 120,000 viewers. Though that’s regarded as a good figure for a news channel, in TV terms it’s derisory. And hardly suggests there’s a huge untapped market that longs for more news.

The mistake GB News may have made is to assume that the 17 million plus people who voted for Brexit are gagging for a news channel to tell them how right they were. Just because someone backed Brexit doesn’t mean they’ll watch a 24-hour news channel affirming their choice. The very low viewing figures for GB News – sometimes so low they’re not enough to register – indicates that demand probably isn’t there.

Targeting brands on social media pretty much demanding they don’t advertise on GB News might make more people want to watch. No one likes to be told what they can and can’t watch. Anymore than many of us liked Mary Whitehouse trying to dictate what was once suitable TV viewing. How is what Led By Donkeys and Stop Funding Hate different from her strident campaigns to “clean up” TV in the 1960s and 70s? 

If Led by Donkeys and Stop Funding Hate force GB News off the air the channel can claim victim status: “Those snowflakes shut us down.” Instead of dying a death of irrelevance and being a woefully poor broadcaster.

My biggest beef with attempts to force GB News off the air is that we may never get the chance to see if there was an audience for it. If you are on the side of Led By donkeys, Stop Funding Hate, and other similar groups, wouldn’t it be infinitely more satisfying for GB News to fail because it failed to get an audience? Why not just ignore it and let it fall rather than giving it a big shove? 

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Laura Marcus

Laura Marcus is a freelance journalist and broadcaster.

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