Change the narrative and you can change the world

I recently joined the volunteering team at the Stop Funding Hate campaign, which was launched in August 2016 in the wake of the EU referendum result – originally a response to the surge of hate crimes following the Brexit vote. Since then, what has followed is a near 95,000 following on Twitter and a campaign flourishing into a grass roots phenomenon.

The fundamental aim is to engage with the advertisers featured in publications that spread hate and division. Advertisers are a major part of this business model of hate – as newspaper sales decline, adverts fund the hate that continues to be printed. In other words, hit them where it’ll hurt the most.

In 2016, Lego announced they would no longer advertise in the Daily Mail and Paperchase apologised after running a promotion in the paper. In 2017, the Body Shop announced they would also terminate their relationship with the paper. Since then, Center Parcs, the Phone Co-op, JOY, Thread, Southbank Centre, Bellroy, LGTBTQ+ theatre Above The Stag and others have all committed to ethical advertising – all results from the admirable campaigning at Stop Funding Hate.

In 2015, the UN Human Rights Chief, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein released a statement urging the UK to examine incitement to hatred in the UK media – specifically calling out the Daily Mail, the Sun and Daily Express for their continuous attacks on migrants and refugees:

To give just one glimpse of the scale of the problem, back in 2003 the Daily Express ran 22 negative front pages stories about asylum seekers and refugees in a single 31-day period. Many of these stories have been grossly distorted and some have been outright fabrications.”

 Just as narratives form brands around politics, they can also form narratives around communities. And this is when it becomes alarming, because not only do we make judgements based on narratives, we also treat others based on them. The way in which refugees and migrants have been depicted, created, and recreated by the media – the very institution that is intended to serve them – is troubling. As a society, we portray these groups of people to be less than us, because we have been told by national publications that they are less than us. We view refugees and migrants as “job stealers” and “rapists” because certain publications like the Daily Express plaster that narrative across their front pages for 31-days straight – and don’t portray them to be the doctors, scientists, teachers and nurses that they once were before they faced atrocities that forced them to leave their home countries.

Make no mistake, the xenophobic, islamophobic, transphobic and misogynistic rhetoric has thrived from these narratives. The likes of fascist political figures will continue to thrive from these narratives as it enables validation. Validation that can become incredibly dangerous.

All Jews must die” were the words of a shooter – now identified as 46-year-old Robert Bowers – as he burst into the Tree of Life synagogue on October 27th where congregants gathered for Sabbath service. Killing eleven and injuring six, it is being labelled as the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in recent US history – but is only one of 18 cases of white-supremacist killings since Trump was inaugurated.
Narratives in the media matter. It forms our perceptions, which forms our realities, and our realities impact our choices.

But wait…

What happens if we change the narrative? What if, instead of demonising minorities, we started to focus on the achievements and beauty of diversity? What if, instead of having a predominately white employment rate in a disturbing number of journalism corporations, we started hiring more professionals from different ethnicities and cultures, and thus began providing a more objective, sincere industry?

In order to achieve this, we must overcome our own learned biases and begin to stop perpetuating the narratives of division so embedded in our society to the world around us. Only then can we have an open discussion about remodeling the narrative.

Though the media is unquestionably toxic right now – there is also a lot of progressive journalism out there too. Good, authentic journalism can create a more connected, informed and empowered society. Though it has the power to negatively affect the lives of millions, it also has the power to unite millions. If we collectively decided to reject the current social sector and began rebuilding our own, we could change the course of history. As Stop Funding Hate put it – “don’t hate the media – change the media.”

Change the narrative and you can change the world.

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