The hard right GB News channel hit our TV screens last week with not so much of bang as a barely audible grumble.
The sound failed repeatedly during the first days of transmission.
Viewers who came for their promised fix of “war on woke” were left wondering what was going on.
On day two after launch, not only did the station misspell the name of its star presenter Laurence Fox in its graphics, it plastered the words “Fereedom Day” under Boris Johnson giving a speech on lockdown measures.
And, that’s before all manner of trolls got in on the act.
They mocked the station by posting comments with ridiculous fake names for presenters to read out—which, unwittingly, they then did.
It’s good to see lead presenter Andrew Neil and his has-been mates getting such a drubbing.
But the existence of the station, and its potentially large audience, ought to sound alarm bells on the left.
GB News had 150,000 people viewing during its first three-hour show—more than the BBC News channel and Sky News combined.
Some of those will doubtless have been people hoping to see a scrappy argument on TV rather than the staid fodder that passes for debate on mainstream programmes.
But the station will also have followers among racist Tories, and people way to the right of them.
The political task—and hope—of stations such as GB News can be seen in the functioning of its counterparts in the US.
There right wing shock jocks have migrated from radio onto TV stations, such as Fox News. There they use a daily diet of prejudice to try and shape their audience into a coherent political force.
By taking up issues, including opposing Black Lives Matter protests and denouncing LGBT+ people, they set an agenda for the new hard right.
Of course, that strategy was given a huge boost by the election of Donald Trump as president.
But now that he has gone the network of TV and radio stations once again play the role of an organising force for the right.
Presenters expect that their “attack lines” will be absorbed by viewers who will then repeat them to friends and workmates.
This is one of the key ways in which media play a role in the transmission of right wing ideas in society.
The pool of reactionary right wingers is not as big in Britain as in the US.
And even among those who are on the right on important questions, such as immigration, many often embody all manner of contradictions.
For now, that places limits on how far to the right stations such as GB News can go.
But the fact that the current home secretary has appeared on the channel shows that it is getting some political support from the very top of society.
GB News may so far be a laughable failure, but the audience it is addressing is real.
Channel against ‘the elite’ is filled with its detritus
“Now it is time to do news differently,” said Andrew Neil, the face of GB News.
Given that in his time in the media Neil has been given newspapers to run and TV programmes to dominate, you might wonder why in the past he felt so constrained.
According to Neil, his new show won’t be a rolling news channel like the BBC or Sky.
It will focus, instead, on “commentary”. This will give handpicked guests more time to elaborate on their right wing bile.
The GB News team is a group of some of the most right wing and reactionary voices in Britain today.
They include disgraced presenters from other channels, including former ITV news presenter Alastair Stewart.
Stewart left his long running ITV gig after a number of his tweets were revealed.
Dan Wootton, former executive editor of The Sun newspaper heads up his own show.
Wootton casts himself as a lone warrior battling the monster of political correctness that has taken over Britain.
In a recent column he ranted that “brutal cancellations [are] becoming a stain on society.”
But fear of being silenced ought not to worry him. Wootton currently has a column in the Daily Mail and of course, his own TV show on GB News for five days a week.
The anti-elite lineup also includes Mercy Muroki the Oxford‑educated commentator who had a hand in writing the Sewell report.
This was the one that said institutional racism did not exist.
“Comedian” and author of Free Speech and Why It Matters, Andrew Doyle, is set to present a segment on the show called Free Speech Nation.
Perhaps he was brought on for balance. Doyle describes himself as “left wing” and said he supported Jeremy Corbyn in the 2017 election.
But his main selling point is that he sees “identity politics”, and the supposed threat to free speech posed by oppressed people making demands, as one of the great threats to Britain today.
Mainstream media is already filled to the brim with this stuff.
So much for GB News’s claim to be “Doing things differently”.
Who bankrolls GB News?
Is GB News really the outrider, speaking up for the “common man”?
The station is funded in part by the US-based media giant, Discovery, which provided £60 million to produce the show. Discovery owns scores of TV channels in Britain and the US.
Two former Tory party treasurers, Lord Michael Farmer and Lord Michael Spencer, both put money into the channel. And private investment firm, Legatum, also invested.
Additionally the head of one of Europe’s largest hedge funds, Paul Marshall contributed. According to the Sunday Times rich list Marshall is worth £630 million.
Viewers have been ’ad
Some large companies think GB news is a bad place to advertise.
Cider company Kopparberg, Specsavers opticians, Octopus Energy and Swedish furniture company Ikea all pulled their adverts as the channel went live
Some, including Ikea have since reversed their decision.
But the supposedly progressive supermarket chain Co-op says it will carry on advertising on GB News.
Tory Julian Knight, chairman of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, is appalled by threats of boycotts of advertisers.
He told the Mail, “This is the worst type of cancel culture. GB News is bringing a much‑needed perspective to our media landscape.”
Setting of Sun
Not all right wing media are reaping culture war successes.
The racist rag that is The Sun newspaper, is in trouble. Owner Rupert Murdoch recently reset the financial value of the paper to £0.
The newspaper’s turnover fell by a fifth in 2020. And it lost its title of best selling paper to the Daily Mail last year.