I’m very glad to read the news that Center Parcs pulls Daily Mail ads over Tom Daley article — of its advertisement next to a homophobic Richard Littlejohn article, the holiday organisation said “We felt this placement was completely unacceptable and therefore ceased advertising with the Daily Mail with immediate effect”. London Southbank Centre also said, “We monitor the environment in which our advertising appears, to ensure the values of a publication are compatible with our own. We have no future plans to advertise within the Daily Mail”.
Predictably, there has been a little faux-anguish about “free speech”, which is mis-placed. I’m a great believer that anyone should be able to say what they want to say (even “hate speech” as long as they’re not inciting violence). My position is “I disagree with what you say, but will defend to death your right to say it. But that doesn’t mean I want to waste my time listening to you”.
Similarly, I have a choice whether to fund your free speech. In our democratic capitalist society, I have a once-every-four-years opportunity to vote between largely-indistinguishable political parties in a General Election. But the true power I have is in my choice of goods and service that I consume.
So it’s a game of “follow the money”: Centre Parcs wants my money (that’s why they advertise); the Daily Mail wants some of Centre Parc’s money; Richard Littlejohn wants some of the Daily Mail’s money. (He’s perfectly free to set up a blog to publish his views, after all. He has every right to air them, and everyone has the right to read them, or not, as they choose.)
So if I tell a company that I won’t buy their products because they indirectly fund Littlejohn, or Breitbart, that is my right and my (only) leverage as a consumer. The key is to tell organisations why you consume their products or not. That’s why my tweeting “Good” to Centre Parcs is not “virtue signalling”; it’s letting them know that I will continue to purchase their products, and why. (The last good time I had with my dad — who was gay — three months before he died was a family holiday in Centre Parcs, which he paid for. We had a great time.)
Am I trying to close the Daily Mail down? Not at all. But right now, money I give to Co-op, Hertz, Visa etc indirectly subsidises the Daily Mail’s cover price. If those companies pull their advertising, then avid Richard Littlejohn fans can continue to pay to read it, they’ll just pay more. If they don’t want to pay more, and they stop buying it, that’s up to them. It’s called “the free market”.
There are many things to dislike about consumerism and capitalism. But the fact I can tweet to organisations and exercise financial influence is a power that I cherish, and will continue to use.