The Spectator chairman Andrew Neil has banned the Co-operative Group from advertising in the magazine after a row about transphobia.
The row was prompted by a tweet from a trans customer ‘Lisa Fajita’, the Co-op social media team said an investigation into its advertising policy would be launched.
Lisa wrote: “Hey @coopuk as a trans person I was please [sic] to see your adverts featuring a trans women and celebrating diversity, I visited your stores as a result, but why bother if your going to turn around ignore your members wishes and place adverts and fund transphobia in the spectator.”
Her comments were in response to a Stop Funding Hate (SFH) statement that criticised the group for advertising in the magazine, headed up by Neil.
SFH said: “Many [Co-op members] will be disappointed to see Co-op UK's management supporting a magazine notorious for transphobia and ‘anti-Muslim propaganda’.”
The group alleged that at least one transphobic article appeared in each edition over the past year.
In response, a representative from the Co-op promised Lisa an investigation would be launched and said: “This advert was placed as part of a package by our media buyers. We are taking up the issue with them with a view to them not using this publication again in the future.”
However, before any action could be taken or a statement published, Neil responded by banning Co-op from advertising in his publication.
He said: “No need to bother, Co-op. As of today you are henceforth banned from advertising in The Spectator, in perpetuity. We will not have companies like yours use their financial might to try to influence our editorial content, which is entirely a matter for the editor.”
No need to bother, Co-op. As of today you are henceforth banned from advertising in The Spectator, in perpetuity. We will not have companies like yours use their financial might to try to influence our editorial content, which is entirely a matter for the editor. https://t.co/Iypkk9Pwrb— Andrew Neil (@afneil) September 4, 2020
Neil was supported by Sajid Javid. The MP for Bromsgrove wrote: “Great respect for The Spectator’s tradition of upholding its editorial freedom. You don’t win debates by trying to stop them.”
The situation escalated further on Friday when a spokesman for the Co-op told Yahoo News UK that the post which went out via the social team did not reflect the company’s policy position.
He said: “Where we advertise is driven by three policy principles which we have used since 2017: We will not seek to affect the editorial independence of publications or channels; we will not undermine the commercial value of our society for our members; and we will ensure our values and principles are clear and undiminished regardless of surrounding content.”
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The Co-op social media team reiterated the position with a tweet: “That’s escalated quickly and we want to set the record straight. The tweet sent yesterday was incorrect and does not reflect our advertising position. Our policy supports editorial freedom and you can read more about it here: https://coop.uk/3bs0jhB ^Fi”
Meanwhile The Spectator tweeted: “Sorry to lose the Co-op, but The Spectator cannot work with advertisers who seek to use their commercial clout to stifle debate. Read our coverage of the transgender debate here: https://spectator.co.uk/tag/transgender”
Sorry to lose the Co-op, but The Spectator cannot work with advertisers who seek to use their commercial clout to stifle debate. Read our coverage of the transgender debate here: https://t.co/NXYpCArayS— The Spectator (@spectator) September 4, 2020
Speaking before the clarification of the Co-op’s position, Richard Wilson, director at SFH, told Yahoo News UK: “The Spectator is notorious for its toxic track record of transphobia and anti-Muslim content.
“The Co-op’s brave move reflects a growing recognition by advertisers that aligning with media that demonise their customers just doesn’t make sense for their brand.
“In doing so, the Co-op is implementing what 96% of its members voted for at the company’s 2018 AGM - ensuring that its adverts are not funding media that conflict with co-operative ethics and values.”
Yahoo News UK contacted The Spectator for comment but had not had a response at the time of going to press.