Andrew Neil has thrown the gauntlet down to brands and advertising and media agencies to go live on air to discuss their reasons for joining the GB News advertising boycott.
The chairman of the news channel put out the appeal in a short statement read out as part of his Media Watch show on 17 June.
He railed against Stop Funding Hate, which has orchestrated the boycott via a Twitter-led campaign, claiming there was no basis for its appeal for advertisers to take the station off their media plans.
“So far not a single example of hate has been given in evidence to justify the boycott” since GB News' debut on 13 June, Neil said, adding the only hate the channel had covered so far had been a mob of anti-lockdown protestors circling a BBC reporter, which the channel denounced on air.
“But this programme issues a standing invitation to the boss of any company or agency that thinks to the contrary — to come on air. We’ll look at your examples and discuss them together. Our studio door is open.”
He also warned advertisers “that this boycott business can play both ways” and that “we can muster millions of supporters on social media. Not a good idea to be on the wrong end of them.”
Kopparberg, Grolsch and Nivea are among the brands that have said they have stopped advertising on the channel since its launch.
Richard Wilson, director of Stop Funding Hate, told Campaign he rejected Neil's claim that the channel has not been a source of hate speed.
"Within days of launching, GB News commentators have attacked the England football team over their anti-racism stance, and aired dangerous claims about Covid-19," Wilson said. "It's no surprise that so many reputable brands are refusing to align with this."
Campaign also asked several media agencies if they would take up the opportunity to discuss the boycott with Andrew Neil live on air but none of them has responded so far.
Sky Media, which sells advertising for GB News, said it was not willing to give an update on whether new companies had joined the boycott nor if any had changed their minds and resumed advertising on the channel.
The sales house confirmed brands buy TV audiences, rather than specific channels, and that is why some may have advertised on GB News without knowing.
However, a spokesperson confirmed that any company can request their media plan excludes a specific channel.
SFH claims its campaign has 'impact'
Stop Funding Hate, which has previously targeted UK tabloid newspapers, has also hit back at Neil on Twitter and claimed its campaign against GB News was working.
“GB News are lashing out at Stop Funding Hate because they know the campaign is having an impact,” the campaigning group said. “The companies we shop with care what their customers think, and when enough of us speak out, advertisers will respond.”
The campaigning group frequently refers to GB News as a "British Fox News" but Neil and his colleagues have been at pains to distance the channel from the right-wing US TV news giant.
Angelos Frangopoulos, chief executive of GB News, recently told Business Insider: “Fox News would not work here in the United Kingdom and that's definitely what we are not doing."
Neil suggested that Stop Funding Hate had already made its mind up on the channel before it had started broadcasting.
“SFH started rounding up the lynch mob four months before we had even started broadcasting. So I don’t think we’re talking open minds here,” he said.
“If advertisers want to see real hate they should have a look at the social media postings of SFH’s supporters. They smear and threaten businesses and people who won’t do their bidding with words like “vile”, “scum”, “toxic” — and many more words we can’t repeat here.
“Yet through fear or ignorance some companies do as SFH bids. Woke nonsense has reached the boardroom and corporate capitalism is becoming the useful idiot of bigots bent on censorship.”
Neil's decision to turn the spotlight on brands could put them in an awkward position.
While SFH is running a campaign to get more of its followers to join the boycott, the warning that GB News supporters could in turn boycott the boycotters led to The Express running a long list of household name brands that are shunning the channel.
A survey by the paper revealed that 93% of its readers are prepared to stop buying from brands that have joined the boycott.
Oliver Dowden, the culture secretary, added his voice to the debate, criticising advertisers for pulling their ads from GB News because of SFH.
"Our values of tolerance and freedom of expression, for which previous generations have fought and died, increasingly risk being undermined by a small but vocal minority," he said in The Sunday Telegraph.