16 June 2021

Spare us the corporate ‘values’ sermons about GB News

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It’s been a difficult start to life for GB News.

Launching a TV channel in the middle of the pandemic, with your best known presenter in a different country was always going to be a challenge. There have been technical glitches, production problems and accusations that the BBC is trying to stop its new rival from accessing pooled footage of public events – a charge hotly denied by the Corporation, I should add.

Perhaps more alarmingly, various advertisers have now chosen to pause or withdraw their spots after being harangued by some Very Online lefties.

This is no great surprise, of course. I wrote earlier this year about the concerted attempt by ‘Stop Funding Hate’, a leftwing campaign group, to put the brakes on GB News by urging companies to boycott it. Though then it didn’t even strictly qualify as a free speech issue, because the channel hadn’t actually broadcast anything yet.

The advertisers’ statements have been the typical supine, corporate guff you’d expect, full of nauseating waffle about “values” – a word that in this context has little to do with its normal meaning, but is about broadcasting adherence to a set of highly conventional, platitudinous socio-cultural positions designed to align a company with its customers so it can flog more of its stuff. The Jesuits they are not.

So we end up with Grolsch, a manufacturer of mediocre mass-market lager, saying GB News contradicts its “core values of inclusion and openness to all people”. Then there’s Kopparberg, a producer of implausibly saccharine cider, saying its drinks are “for everyone” and Ikea, which does a fine line in both flat-pack furniture and meatballs, reassuring its customers that there are “safeguards in place to prevent our advertising from appearing on platforms that are not in line with our humanistic values”.

Now, as well as being annoying, this kind of pseudo-moralising looks especially daft if your own conduct has not always been whiter than white.

Take Ikea, whose “humanistic values” clearly didn’t extend to its French division illegally employing private investigators to obtain private information about current and prospective employees – for which the company was fined €1m yesterday. There’s also the fact Ikea’s founder, Ingvar Kamprad, was a recruiter for a Swedish Nazi group as a teenager (for which he has sincerely apologised) and the time the company put a whole new spin on “politically correct” by sourcing furniture from suppliers reliant on east German prison camps – though it’s quite possible that these particular Communist internment facilities operated to the most humanistic of labour standards.

Don’t get me wrong, Ikea is a great company in many respects. The Ikea Foundation has given lots of money to charity and those meatballs really are tasty. But if your company’s history mentions both the Nazis and the Stasi in the footnotes, maybe tone down the sermonising?

Personally, at the risk of outing myself as a DIY dunce, I care far less about Ikea’s inclusivity than the fact that I can’t put their furniture together without the help of a paid professional. Likewise, if Kopparberg could focus less on being “for everyone” and more on producing cider that doesn’t coat your tongue in sugary froth, that would be terrific.

What’s puzzling, however, is the way these outfits automatically side with the anti-GB News crowd. In doing so they risk alienating customers, either current or potential, who find this kind of posturing pretty off-putting. It doesn’t strike me that the likes of Grolsch or Ikea have an especially politically correct customer base – though perhaps their market research (whence their ‘values’) tells a different story.

And in any case it’s completely unclear what it is about GB News that is so antagonistic to these “values”. As far as I can tell, none of the companies have referenced anything that’s been broadcast on the channel – it’s just a given that ‘GB News = Hate’ because it’s got some Brexit-supporting backers and a cringingly titled segment called “Woke Watch”. From what I’ve seen of the channel it’s actually rather sedate – certainly not the foam-flecked Fox analogue its critics had conjured.

Of course these companies have the right to advertise or not advertise wherever they see fit, I just wish they’d spare us the “values” nonsense. Call me old-fashioned, but I yearn for multinationals to just hawk their wares and not try to convince us they are on the side of the angels in the process.

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John Ashmore is Editor of CapX.

Columns are the author's own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of CapX.