PR thoughts: Daily Mail, Virgin Trains, and press freedom

virgin-trains
As you may or may not have noticed this week, an argument has kicked off between the Daily Mail, Virgin Trains, and two opposing politicians who, for what could be the first (and last) time this year, seem to agree on something.
Virgin Trains is the latest brand to bow to pressure from Stop Funding Hate, a campaign that aims to target advertisers and sales outlets, hoping to get them to stop buying ad space or selling the Mail altogether. Our MD, Rick Guttridge, wrote about the issue in his think piece, as featured in our November newsletter.
Self-promotion aside, this is basically one of the UK’s biggest rail operators— responsible for both East and West Coast mainlines, amongst others— deciding to remove all copies of the notoriously right-wing paper from its on-board newsstands. The result being less choice for customers, and a significant voice in the UK media landscape silenced, unless of course you pick up today’s edition from pretty much every other paper shop on the high street before you head for the departure platform.
The issue of whether or not the Mail should be shut up, or at least some of its most outspoken columnists and reporters muted, has been going on for ages. Staunch leftwing scribe Owen Jones has consistently claimed there is no place in journalism for some of the incendiary writing that appears in the title, others agree with its views, and a third camp simply sees the idea of banning a newspaper as an affront to press freedom in the same way as no-platforming contradicts the principles of further education.
Perhaps what’s most surprising about the situation, though, is the way in which Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn, or at least a spokesperson for the latter, appear to share the same perspective as each other on this one; the odds of pigs flying past your window just plummeted, to say the least.
Both have hit out, saying the move represents a negative in terms of the biggest cornerstone of UK press; freedom of speech. No matter which side of the ‘ban it/allow it’ debate you fall, too, there’s something to be said for the bossman at a huge corporation, Sir Richard Branson, banning a title from his customers because it represents an opposing view to his own. In this case the Mail’s pro-leave stance on Brexit, when he himself is very much part of the remain camp.
It’s an interesting argument to observe as a PR firm interested in public opinion. On the one hand, it’s understandable that some corners find the Mail’s content too inflammatory, hence the campaign to change that rhetoric. But then is it any better to have what we can and can’t read dictated to us by a corporate mogul? It’s certainly no more free. There’s also the small matter of Branson’s position, and abuse of that, which paints him as anything but a benchmark for ethics and fair dealings; check the official HQ for the monolithic Virgin, the tax haven of the British Virgin Islands, for proof of that.
 
So what do you think? Is Virgin Trains doing the right thing, should the Mail be allowed to spread its messages wherever it likes, or is this simply a case of shopkeepers— however mobile and enormous they may be— being allowed to stock what they want?