06/12/2016 05:55 GMT | Updated 07/12/2017 05:12 GMT

Stop Funding Hate: Free Speech Is For Everyone, Not Just For Newspaper Editors


The media plays a vital role: Challenging corruption, informing democracy, and holding government to account.

Right now that role is being undermined by a business model which no longer serves the public interest. Financial incentives are pushing newspapers to play on hate and prejudice, demonising some of the most vulnerable in our society. Far from reporting facts without fear or favour, elements of the UK press are practising a kind of institutionalised discrimination.

Things have got so bad that three papers - The Sun, Daily Express and Daily Mail - have been called out by the UN over their coverage.

Stop Funding Hate aims to mobilise consumer power to bring positive change. Since we launched our first campaign video, tens of thousands have called on companies to pull their advertising from these three papers. Our biggest win yet was the decision by Lego to end its promotional activity with the Daily Mail.

Our ultimate aim is to cancel out the incentives that are driving these papers towards ever-more hostile reporting - and bring about a press that is both free and fair. In the last few weeks we've heard from people who feel personally targeted by these hate campaigns - against Muslims, migrants and refugees, against LGBT people, people with disabilities, and those struggling to get by on social security.

We've also seen worrying signs of the chilling effect that the behaviour of some newspapers is having on free speech in the UK.

In 2012 a migrant welfare group gave the Leveson Inquiry a glimpse of the culture of fear within the sector: "many of us... have concerns that if we are to challenge the tabloid press we would be targeted in the same way our service users are--through inaccurate and biased stories. We feel completely silenced and unprotected and unable to take part in the public debate".

Yet since then, the hostility has only intensified. As we've seen with the treatment of Lily Allen, Emma Watson and Gary Lineker, it's now commonplace for those who speak up for compassion or speak out against discrimination to be subjected to vicious personal attacks.

This might seem ironic given the tendency of some within the media to characterise any challenge to their business model as an attack on free speech.

Free speech is a core value for Stop Funding Hate. It's something I've personally campaigned on for over a decade. In 2009 I used Twitter to help scupper a "super-injunction" through whichan oil company, Trafigura, tried to gag reporting of the proceedings of Parliament. I was an active supporter of the campaign to reform the UK's dysfunctional libel laws and have faced -and resisted - vexatious defamation threats over my own writing.

For seven years I worked for Amnesty International - and met people who'd been jailed and tortured for exercising their right to free speech. These campaigners did what they did because they knew it was right - not because they were being paid. We all have a right to speak our minds. This doesn't mean anyone is obliged to subsidise our opinions, or finance the dissemination of our views.

The philosopher Voltaire has been paraphrased as saying: "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it". He never said "I will defend to the death your right to get advertising revenue".

The Daily Mail, Daily Express and The Sun are free to print whatever they like within the law. We too have a right to speak out. And if the press refuses to act in the public interest, then we as the public are entitled to exercise our rights, and make our voices heard.

This is not about individuals. We oppose hate speech in all circumstances - including when it is directed towards the press. We know that there are people working within these papers who are deeply conflicted about the way things have been going.

But to bring about a media that treats everyone fairly, we must change the business model. We have to find a way to make hate and fear less profitable.

Companies like Lego, John Lewis and the Co-op are entitled to choose where they advertise. And the public has a right to speak out and seek to influence those choices - whether the newspapers like it or not.

Stop Funding Hate is not calling for any kind of government regulation or censorship - or for any publication to be removed from sale. If the Daily Mail editor wants to stand in Hyde Park with a megaphone and a sandwich board, expressing his views on immigration, we will defend his right to do so.

But please don't make us pay for the megaphone.