Grant Feller: the director of Grant Feller Media
Grant Feller: the director of Grant Feller Media
A view from Grant Feller

Lego 'looks like a bully' by joining 'baffling' war against Daily Mail

Lego's decision to end promotional activity with the Daily Mail amid pressure from Stop Funding Hate raises worrying questions about freedom of expression, argues Grant Feller.

In one of the Second World War’s greatest acts of defiance, Denmark distinguished itself as being the only country under Nazi occupation to do everything in its power to protect its Jewish citizens.

Despite being forced to collaborate with Hitler’s fascists, the Danish government helped to save the lives of nearly all of its 8,000-plus Jewish citizens.

No doubt this extraordinary feat filled Danish carpenter Ole Kirk Christiansen with understandable pride. At the time, he was busily making wooden toys and had just named his company Lego after the Danish words leg godt meaning "play well".

He slowly built his business during those war years, while battalions of SS soldiers marched through the streets of Jutland, where his family had lived for hundreds of years.

Denmark has always been a country that treasures its freedom of expression and refusal to bend to the will of a vociferous minority, which is why it’s baffling that it has gone to war with the Daily Mail – or perhaps headed into retreat.

The company has announced that it is to end its hugely popular "giveaway" promotions in the Mail, which have been running since 2013, because of concerns about the daily and Sunday newspapers’ deliberately inflammatory coverage of subjects such as immigration and Brexit.

Denmark has always been a country that treasures its freedom of expression and refusal to bend to the will of a vociferous minority, which is why it’s baffling that it has gone to war with the Daily Mail – or perhaps headed into retreat.

It has done so after consulting with the pressure group, Stop Funding Hate, which lobbies companies to stop advertising with newspapers that it believes express hatred within their pages.

A Lego spokesman said: "The main purpose for us as a company is to develop amazing, creative Lego play experiences to children all over the world.

"In order to do that successfully, we spend a lot of time listening to what children have to say. And when parents and grandparents take the time to let us know how they feel, we always listen just as carefully."

Other companies being targeted by the lobbying group to pull their advertising and cross-promotion deals with right-wing newspapers – perhaps because left-leaning organisations apparently don’t hate – include John Lewis, Marks and Spencer and Waitrose.

I don’t much like the Daily Mail’s politics but I read – and enjoy – the paper every day, along with almost every other national newspaper that’s printed. I’m immensely proud of the time I spent at the newspaper as a journalist and executive more than a decade ago, and many who work there are among the finest talents in journalism.

You don’t have to join the 1.5 million people who buy the paper, the 3.5 million who actually read the printed version and the 15 million-plus worldwide who consume the online product daily – but I bet you’re pleased that, unlike in Nazi Europe, people have the choice to write for it, buy it, read it and advertise in it.

Does the paper "hate", or does it "not like"? The two are very different emotions. I don’t think the product and its typical reader hate immigrants – in fact it’s a champion of Asian business leaders, and its admiration of Jewish values, heritage and indeed of Israel is unmatched in the British media.

That’s not to say it doesn’t stray over the line occasionally – one or two columnists clearly enjoy mocking minorities and thrive on being mean-spirited.

However, the paper (and many millions of Britons) clearly fear untrammelled immigration, want people who seek shelter in Britain to abide by British values and are horrified that some may choose to live on endless free handouts. But that’s not the same as hating.

The Daily Mail’s most recent over-the-top attack on three judges who ruled that the Brexit vote in the referendum needs first to be ratified by politicians, is not about hate but where decision-making resides – among a discredited elite or the democratic will of the people. The story and headline weren’t fuelled by hate but anger.

Stop Funding Hate – set up by Richard Wilson, a London-based NGO worker and human rights campaigner – seems to have the right-wing tabloid media alone in its sites. I imagine he hates the Daily Mail.

Hatred on the left is not part of the problem. UK national newspapers made over £1bn in advertising in 2015 and Wilson is targeting those who advertise in the tabloids because he doesn’t want people to be "inadvertently complicit" in the newspapers’ coverage.

He adds: "Even if you don’t personally buy these newspapers, the chances are you are shopping with a company that is helping to finance their activities."

That sounds like a pamphlet that might have been written by Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels 75 years ago, "Even if you don’t personally buy Jewish products, the chances are you are shopping with companies that have helped to finance their activities…"

It’s an admirable aim to stamp out hate from the media but bullying brands to pull their products is faintly fascistic.

And as for the weakness of Lego’s board and its decision-making, well one can only speculate as to where this will all end.

Should Lego now stop selling fizzy drinks and crisps at its leisure parks because they contribute to obesity and might hasten death?

Should Lego ban the Trump family from ever purchasing the toy bricks because Donald quite clearly preached hate to win the presidency?

Or should Lego remove all of its logos and branding from social media websites such as Facebook and Twitter who knowingly allow users to spout the most disgusting racist slurs and abuse – why would Lego want to be associated with such hate-filled organisations?

Surely it can’t be because the financial and branding opportunities are too valuable.

One reason why Denmark stood alone among Europe’s governments in protecting its Jews so bravely, is because it understood that freedom of belief and expression was what would defeat Nazi ideology if the bombs and bullets didn’t do so first.

When hate invaded, it bullied the Danish government into submission but not its people’s spirit.

Perhaps there’s someone brave enough at Lego – and the other brands being targeted for how they conduct their media campaigns – who will ask, "Who’s hating now and who is doing the bullying?"

Grant Feller is director of Grant Feller Media. He was a journalist for the Daily Mail from 1994 to 2000, for its then sister paper, the London Evening Standard, from 2002 to 2006, and for Daily Express owner Northern & Shell from 2006 to 2013