By Hamish Mackay in the Scottish Review
GB News, the biggest news TV channel destined for UK consumption since Sky News arrived 32 years ago, seems set for a fairly imminent launch – perhaps as early as March – and is currently recruiting 120 journalists from across Britain.
However, on the same day that the channel’s chairman, Paisley-born former BBC broadcaster, Andrew Neil, pictured at top of page, set out his ‘anti-woke’ vision for GB News, an attempted advertising boycott was launched by campaign group, Stop Funding Hate, which led to hundreds of tweets being sent to banks, mobile phone companies and other brands using the hashtag #DontFundGBNews. The tweets speculated that the channel will be right-wing in the mould of America’s Fox News.
Media industry website, Press Gazette, in an in-depth look at the TV initiative, reports that the launch ‘is gaining momentum with Dan Wootton as its first major signing and a huge recruitment drive under way. GB News plans to air 6,500 hours a year of “original news, opinion and debate”, eschewing rolling news for appointment-to-view programming’.
Dan Wootton, executive editor of The Sun and Talkradio drive-time presenter, has become the first big on-air signing for GB News. He has been at The Sun for seven years where he broke some major showbiz scoops, including Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s departure to the US – branded ‘Megxit’. Press Gazette quotes Wootton as saying: ‘I feel passionately about GB News’ bold vision to bring a fresh approach to television news and debate that embraces all voices and opinions across Britain’.
As well as his chairman’s role, Andrew Neil will host a flagship evening programme in primetime. He set out the channel’s ethos in an exclusive interview in the Scottish Sunday Express on 7 February, declaring: ‘I believe the direction of news debate in Britain is increasingly woke and out of touch with the majority of its people.
‘I believe our national conversation has become too metropolitan, too southern and too middle-class. Some journalists and commentators seem too confident that their liberal-left assumptions must surely be shared by every sensible person in the land. But many of those same sensible people are fed up. They feel left out and unheard.
‘There’s a restlessness, a sense that they’re being talked down to; that much of the media no longer reflects their values or shares their concerns. GB News is aimed squarely at those people.
‘Many are among the 80% of Britons who live outside Greater London. Wherever they are from, we will listen to them carefully and give them a voice in our national debate. Our regional focus is vital. We are investing in 120 jobs for journalists around England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.’
Neil gave the assurance: ‘Facts must be well-sourced and accurate. Conspiracy and disinformation will not be tolerated. Mistakes will be quickly acknowledged and rectified’.
The channel’s chief executive, Angelos Frangopoulos, says GB News is ‘committed to impartial journalism’ and looking for a ‘range of voices and perspectives’. In a letter responding to a critical article in The Guardian by columnist Marina Hyde, in which she derided GB News as being the ‘anti-impartiality’ news channel, Frangopoulos emphasised: ‘GB News will be staunchly independent. That is our point. Our investors know this, our journalists will know it and so will our viewers. We aim to serve British communities who feel poorly represented by mainstream television media, especially outside London.
‘We are proud to be adding plurality to UK media by investing in journalism that will be as diverse and broad-minded as the British people themselves. We are absolutely committed to our mission to report news in the most accurate and balanced way we can.’
However, Press Gazette observes: ‘Nevertheless, [GB News] has frequently been tipped as the UK’s answer to US right-wing channel Fox News, with journalists approached to get involved, telling the Daily Telegraph it was pitched to them as a right-wing alternative to the BBC… Neil has described his expectation that GB News anchors will have a “bit of edge, a bit of attitude, personality”‘.
The new channel has signed a long-term deal with TV transmitter network Arqiva to reach 96% of UK households through all major UK platforms including Freeview, Sky, Virgin Media, YouView and Freesat. Frangopoulos said the deal would give it the reach ‘to rival that of the major public service broadcasters’. The channel will also have streaming, video-on-demand and audio services.
It claims it will be Europe’s ‘most nimble and sophisticated multi-platform broadcast newsroom’ after signing a deal with systems integrator Mediability. Mediability’s DiNA system allows journalists to broadcast on several platforms at once, while automating aspects of story production. The channel’s chief operating officer, Marc Schipper, explains: ‘GB News will be the only entirely cloud-based newsroom in the country. It means we’ll be lean but also that our journalists can deliver more features for viewers, more immediately and efficiently than ever’.
Mediability said the DiNAsystem allows journalists to collaborate on stories from any location, and explained: ‘As well as broadcasting live to air, they can prepare material across other online platforms including Twitter or Facebook and use immediate tools such as graphics, almost real-time translations, captions and AI-recognition of stored broadcast clips’.
Political journalists attend a press conference in Clydebank. Picture by Bill Heaney