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Is GB News Britain’s Fox News?

It’s not that often we get a new TV news channel. Sky News launched in 1989, and the BBC followed in 1997, but there have been very few challenges to the media landscape since. That is, until the creation of GB News. The long-vaunted news network finally hit our screens a few days ago, but does it live up to its grand desires about shaking things up?

The channel launched on Sunday 13 June with an hour-long show helmed by Andrew Neil, in which he laid out the objectives of GB News and interviewed a number of the channel’s personalities about their shows and their motivations for joining. Neil’s monologue said that the channel would give a voice “to those who felt sidelined or even silenced in our great national debates”, and that it would “not follow the existing news agenda”. He said that the channel will not be “an echo chamber”, but that it will offer “civilised discourse” which may sometimes “court controversy”, and that it will “puncture the pomposity of our elites in politics, business, media, and academia and expose their growing promotion of cancel culture for the threat to free speech and democracy that it is”.

I think more diversity in the media landscape is always a good thing and, although the channel has been framed as some raving right-wing network, it’s actually really quite mild and measured

Once the launch show had passed, we fell into the channel’s usual routine – shows of a few hours’ length, helmed by big names, in which they discussed big issues of the day between themselves or with guests. The first show was hosted by former Sun journalist Dan Wootton, which felt to me a bit of a misfire – with some of the impressive names on staff, including Simon McCoy and Alistair Stewart, I’d have thought a more established and respected news figure would have really steadied the ground.

Throughout the launch night, the presenters and the guests were plagued by technical issues. There was a surprising amount of sound problems, and one of Neil’s first guests, the historian Neil Oliver, had no microphone at all for a good chunk of his interview. Video clips were out of sync and the mixing was off in many places – obviously, we should expect teething problems from the launch of a new channel, and these issues have definitely reduced (if not vanished) on subsequent nights, but it felt very unprofessional at times, particularly as the picture quality noticeably dipped at many points too.

What was the reaction? It was pretty much as anticipated – right-leaning papers praised it for offering something new and being a genuine challenge to the likes of BBC News and Sky News, while left-leaning papers attacked it as a conspiracy network and “Britain’s Fox News”. There was a lot of glorious celebration on Twitter every time there was a tech issue, and lots of hope that the channel would fail before it had even begun. Pressure has already been piled on advertisers to withdraw under the guise of stopping hate, which seems to me a massive misrepresentation of the channel now I’ve actually seen it. Really, most of the opinion about GB News was decided long before it aired – very few people were watching the channel with an open mind.

My own reaction sits somewhere in the middle. I think more diversity in the media landscape is always a good thing and, although the channel has been framed as some raving right-wing network, it’s actually really quite mild and measured. Many of the discussions are quite interesting, and it’s good to see some alternative viewpoints on our screen. I can’t remember ever seeing anyone question whether lockdowns are actually effective, for example, despite strong evidence on both sides. It’s always good to see Andrew Neil on screen – he’s Britain’s best political interviewer, and the BBC made a big mistake letting him go – and the rest of the network is genuinely impressive.

At this stage in its life, I think GB News is about average – it’s got some good points, and some bad points

But it’s hampered by the fact that many of the shows are essentially the same, putting across similar viewpoints on the same issues. I’d like to see a little more balance, even though I think it’s far from one-sided. I’d like the tech issues to be sorted out, and I’d like the adverts not to go on for so long. And, most importantly, I’d like the show to tackle a key flaw that really hurts it as a news network – it doesn’t actually do that much in the way of news. There’s a scrolling news banner and some sporadic updates, but it needs (at least) the headlines on the hour, something to that effect. Analysing news works a lot better when you tell us what the news is first.

At this stage in its life, I think GB News is about average – it’s got some good points, and some bad points. The plurality of news coverage is always a good thing, and I think it could be a big player if it irons out some of its faults. I wish we weren’t in a mediascape where so many people feel unrepresented, a whole new channel is needed to speak to them, but we are where we are. GB News has talked a big game, and the potential is there for it to realise its potential – I hope that it does.

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