Later this year, on channel 236, a brand-new TV network called Great Britain News is set to launch. The revolutionary show has attracted significant attention already for its star-studded hosts, substantial financial backing and, according to the Guardian, alarming “populist agenda”. It is surprising that a new programme could be so polarising without having broadcasted a single minute. People have a right to be wary of new players in such an influential industry like media; one only has to look so far as to our Atlantic neighbours, where a mere three months ago the Capital was invaded by right-wing insurgents. Nevertheless, it is crucial to examine GB news forensically and impartially. Before we dismiss it as a right-wing, conspiracy-theory peddling, populist echo chamber, let us examine the details and facts we know so far.
GB News is a new television service that aims to “champion, robust, balanced debate and a range of perspectives on the issues that affect everyone in the UK, not just those living in the London area”. The UK media has long been criticised for its southern focus, and a further reaching broadcaster will be welcomed to those outside of the Capital who feel ignored by the London centric reporting. Andrew Neil, chairman, claimed that there are “A vast number of British people who feel undeserved and unheard by the media”. I believe this is where the “populist” accusation originates. Populism is a political approach that strives to appeal to ordinary people who feel that established elite groups disregard their concerns. GB News is appealing to these people. One can draw multiple comparisons between this initial announcement and the Trump Campaign of 2016 and the EU referendum’s Leave Campaign. Donald Trump appealed to working-class Americans who felt left behind by Washington and exploited by the elite. He used national resentment as a vehicle to drive his agenda. The Leave campaign followed a similar tactic, appealing to Britain’s who felt left behind by the last decade’s societal and economic progress and were desperate to “take back control”. GB News is representing itself as a champion of the people that understands the discomfort held by “voiceless” citizens. Whilst we can make this initial marketing comparison, what GB news does with its power as the “people’s mouthpiece” is yet to be seen, and so one cannot pre-emptively assume it will be twisted and manipulated.
GB news has said it does not aim to provide rolling news, like that of CNN in America, but instead will be a 24-hour broadcast of mixed news, opinions and debates. It has openly said to be using Fox and MSNBC as “the two templates we are following”. The programme will have individual shows headed by well-known journalists such as Andrew Neil and Alastair Stewart. The style of broadcasting it has opted to follow has produced significant concerns that GB News is the “Fox News of the UK”. Fox News is the 4th most-watched network in the US. It was strongly pro-Trump and was criticised for peddling conspiracy theories and divisive broadcasting, many claims that it holds significant responsibility for the Capital Riots as it openly supported the ‘Stop the Steal’ rhetoric from the Trump Campaign. Dominion Voting machines are now suing Fox News for defamation as a result of its broadcasts.
The idea of a Fox News equivalent in the UK is worrying. Fox News actively supported and promoted Donald Trump and broadcasted countless reports of voter fraud after the election that stirred resentment and distrust in the American democratic process. It has sewn a deep trench between the right and left and forced other media stations – CNN, NBC and ABC – to polarise and counteract its staunch right-wing reports. The media is highly influential in politics. A channel like Fox News would give a bigger platform to populist leaders and policy parties like the British National Party and figures like Tommy Robinson. It is unhealthy to segregate the media along with political affiliations, and it should be protected at all costs.
The archetypal Fox News characteristics are: a right-wing mainly white audience, funded by an elite and explicitly political executive and unregulated bias broadcasting.
In terms of audience, Fox News demographic has a clear pattern, white and older. 69% of its audience are aged 50 and over, whilst 74% are white. Whilst we cannot yet see the demographic of GB News, one can make a few assumptions of their target audience by looking at the initial list of broadcasters. GB News CEO is Angelos Grangopoulos, a TV veteran who led Sky News Australia, which noted a robust political bias. He has, however, openly dismissed allegations of replicating the Australian programme within the UK, claiming that “it will not follow the same model.” Andrew Neil is the Chairman of GB News and TV virtuoso; his experience will be pivotal in ensuring GB News retains an opinionated but not chauvinistic tone. Andrew has had a successful career holding politicians from across the political spectrum and his political standpoints allegiant to one side. John McAndrew is the shows news director; having spent over 25 years working with Sky, BBC, ITN and NBC, he is a mostly centred political expert. Tom Harwood, at just 24, is leaving Guido Fawkes and is joining the political team along with former Brexit Party candidate Michelle Dewberry, 41. The roster of journalists joining GB News is young, whilst there is a large cohort who openly campaigned for Brexit, Andrew Neil dismisses these concerns with “If a number of our presenters were on the Brexit side of the argument, so what? Brexit is done”. Fox News has almost exclusively right-wing commentators that appeal to right-wing pundits. Ultimately, GB News has a reasonably well spread, potentially lightly right-leaning roaster.
Media Tycoon Rupert Murdoch owns Fox News. Murdoch himself is polarising. Defendants love him for his relentless promotion of right-wing media, whilst others say he has been instrumental in manipulating and polarising Western democracy for financial gain. No UK Prime Minister has got into office without the support of Murdoch and his media empire. GB news, on the other hand, has been funded from a variety of sources. The founders, Andrew Cole and Mark Schneider, initially utilised Sir Robbie Gib, Theresa May’s spin doctor, who held an elaborate fundraiser for its launch where he lobbied Andrew Neil to take on GB News finale to his career. John Malone, nicknamed the “Cable Cowboy”, connected GB News to the American Discovery and Sir Paul Marshall, investor, funded a hefty £10 million to round off initial funding at £60 million. A single-family does not own GB news and thus is not financially dependent on an individual’s political will. GB News’s greater financial independence gives it far more capability to move across the political spectrum and not throw all its weight behind specific political candidates, as Fox News did with Trump.
The most critical distinction between UK and US telecoms that many people forget is OfCom. Ofcom is the Office of Communications that works closely with the Government Department of Digital, Culture, Media. It is financed by taxpayer’s money and has a statutory duty to represent citizens’ interests and protect the public from harmful or offensive materials. Ofcom has legal powers to impose sanctions on broadcasters that violate their policy. In 2021, CGTN Network had its licence revoked for being illegally owned by Star China Media Limited and in 2014, Ofcom removed a British National Party advert for “racism”. Ofcom is a compelling government body with decisive power, and it has not been timid to use.
On the other hand, the US is almost entirely unregulated, which has paved the way for intense partisan reporting. Fox News was able to peddle pro-Trump conspiracy theories, and CNN launched the most aggressively pro-Democrat campaign in its history as there are no checks and balances. Nick Ferrari, the LBC host, when commenting on GB News pointed out that “If it comes off too much like Fox News, it’s not going to work in a British Audience because they are not that extreme.” British politics, I believe, has not been polarised nearly to the same extent as Washington because of Ofcom and our, by and large, more balanced media.
I do not think that GB News is going to be the Fox equivalent for the UK. UK TV reporting is ripe for change. Social media is 24/7 and often hours ahead of TV stations on “Breaking News”. Ofcom will have its powers tested by GB News and will, I hope, pose as a formidable barrier to potential partisan and bias reporting. It is important not to compare our political systems to America as it is diversely different. In the US anyone with money can run for President and Donal Trump is proof of that. An outsider with significant financial resources entered politics and took the Presidency in 18 months. In the UK, the Prime Minister is conventionally the leader of the majority party in Parliament. To vote for our parties, we use the First Past the Post system, which has its downfalls but does mean that smaller and potentially more radical parties and leaders are far less likely to get into office. GB News has hired a fairly well-balanced presenting team and is full of political veterans who know the British audience’s limits. I am not advocating to let our guard down and let GB News run free, but the level of criticism and concern raised before it has even aired seems a touch over-dramatic.
GB News is nothing in comparison to its new and already more opinionated rival, UK News. Rupert Murdoch owns UK News; in its initial announcement, it defined itself as an “Opinionated TV Service”. Political commentators have already speculated a potential “race to the right” between the two new stations. UK News can become the UK Fox News and appears to be trying to do precisely that. Ofcom’s powers will be tested. GB news alone I am not worried about, but GB News in competition with UK News is an entirely different story.