MUBI, a well-known movie streaming service, announced on Friday that it is taking steps to ensure that its advertisements do not appear on OpIndia, a Hindutva website regularly accused of spreading misinformation and hate speech.
The decision came after several other brands also said they would drop their ads from the website as the UK-based Stop Funding Hate campaign drew attention to an OpIndia article defending the right of establishments to advertise the fact that they do not hire Muslims.
MUBI was one of the companies that had been alerted through the Stop Funding Hate campaign that its advertisements were appearing on the OpIndia website via advertising networks. The company tweeted afterwards saying it would “ensure that this will not happen again”.
In an e-mail to Scroll.in, the company confirmed that it was moving to ensure its advertisements do not appear on OpIndia.
“We can confirm that we immediately added OpIndia to our list of blocked sites for all advertising activities,” said Sophie Rhatigan, Director of Communications for MUBI. “At MUBI, we try to ensure that our adverts only appear on sites that share our brand values and will be making a concerted effort to identify and block additional websites like this going forward.”
Unlike print advertising where companies consciously choose in which publications their advertisements appear, online advertising usually operates through networks and marketplaces. As a result, ads are often placed automatically on websites and targeted at customers. Brands do, however, have the option of putting certain websites on a blacklist to ensure that their advertisements do not appear there.
In addition to MUBI, several other organisations, including the University of Oxford’s Said Business School and Rubicon Project, an online ad network, have said they will be dropping OpIndia from their advertising programmes.
“A few days ago we were contacted about OpIndia’s article stating that ‘non-Muslims have the right to advertise that they don’t hire Muslims’,” said Richard Wilson, director of the Stop Funding Hate campaign, which has prompted brands like Lego and Pizza Hut to take action in the past. “We’ve seen a lot of hateful media headlines in the past few years, but we’ve rarely seen such overt advocacy of discrimination on religious grounds.”
Wilson said that the campaign was initially focussed on the UK but over time grew to shine a spotlight on hate speech wherever it turned up, when supporters brought its attention to examples.
“Once we began highlighting this example we were contacted by a number of people who told us more about OpIndia’s track record,” he said. “Where we can see that there is a lot of public concern about a particular media outlet, we are also more likely to take action, because we know that companies are more likely to respond when a large number of people are getting engaged... OpIndia is becoming increasingly notorious internationally for its hateful and inflammatory content.”
In an email to Scroll.in, Nupur Sharma, editor of OpIndia, said: “OpIndia has not heard from any advertisers or advertising networks expressing any concerns related to the content on OpIndia or expressing their intent to drop OpIndia from their Google ads. Advertisers don’t really need to reach out to us and they can make changes in their advertising dashboard provided by Google. And thus you should ask the advertisers for the details.”
Claiming that hate speech has “become a tool to browbeat dissenting voices and the bedrock of our democracy, which often favours the most intolerant, would crumble if dissenting voices were silenced”, Sharma said, “OpIndia has not, will not, and will never alter its core belief system or content because of the hegemony of the intolerant. We stand by our article and our content 100% and the bullying tactic employed by some unknown faces sitting in the UK and running a Twitter handle is certainly not going to change that.”
Wilson said that the Stop Funding Hate campaign was inspired by an approach taken by the US-based Sleeping Giants, a Twitter campaign that has successfully convinced 4,000 companies to stop advertising on the white nationalist webiste, Breitbart.
“Unfortunately the rise of online advertising has fuelled a surge in hateful ‘clickbait’ all across the world, but we have seldom seen a website as extreme as this one,” said Wilson. “We think that a lot of mainstream advertisers will be shocked to learn that their advertising is appearing alongside such hostile and inflammatory messages, and that it’s important to help make more brands aware.”
Wilson said that the campaign also helped amplify the recent #RenaultFundsHate campaign action organised by activists across Europe to urge Renault to pull their advertising from Republic Bharat, which had come after NewsLaundry pointed out that the European car manufacturer was a major sponsor on the news channel that regularly broadcasts communally inflammatory rhetoric. Reports now suggest that Renault is no longer a sponsor on the controversial channel.
Republic Bharat has also found itself in trouble with the UK’s broadcast regulatory authority, which reportedly found it in violation of several rules in connection with offensive language.