GB News: Turbulent times for the newly launched channel

GB News: Turbulent times for the newly launched channel

Just a few weeks after its June launch, there is a real danger that GB News is becoming the story, rather than telling the story.

Our TV screens have a new kid on the block, GB News, which sees itself as a straight-talking alternative to traditional news broadcasters. It’s right-wing in its leaning and unapologetic in its stance, claiming free and open debate, which they allege is suppressed in mainstream media by what they call “cancel culture”.

However just a few weeks after its June launch, there is a real danger that GB News is becoming the story, rather than telling the story.

With names like Alastair Stewart, Andrew Neil, Kirsty Gallacher and Dan Wootton heading up what the GB News website describes as their news ‘family’, you may be forgiven for thinking that its team would be experienced enough to keep their newly-built house in order.

Not so, it would seem.  The upstart news channel has been beset by controversy and challenges since it launched. There have been technical difficulties, dark lighting, sound issues and extremely low viewing figures. But that’s not all.

The latest in a deluge of difficulties is the resignation of the channel’s broadcaster, Guto Harri, who had been suspended for taking the knee during a live on-air discussion about the racism being directed at England’s black footballers during the Euros.

Cardiff-born Harri has been a BBC correspondent and also an advisor to Boris Johnson when he was Mayor of London, but his actions have ruffled the feathers not only of some of GB News viewers but also the channel’s executives.

Free speech evidently didn’t include such gestures by Harri, and he was taken off air – cancelled, you might say – for the summer. He responded by quitting his job, claiming that the channel was “rapidly becoming an absurd parody of what it proclaimed to be”.

Guto Harri is not the only person to have quit within the initial weeks. The channel’s director of news and programmes, John McAndrew, has also walked. He is believed to have been unhappy about pressure from the top to reduce local content and boost opinionated debate.

All of this rumpus will, no doubt, prove costly for the business. It has been reported that advertisers are already leaving in their droves with the likes of Specsavers, the Open University, Kopparberg and Octopus pulling out.

There is an expectation from the news-hungry public for media outlets to be accountable for not just what they do, but the way that they do it, and, while the Fox News style channel has its supporters, there are many who believe that it is falling short.

So, what now for the channel? It’s clearly courted its fair share of controversy and has had a lacklustre start.  There are many who have wanted to see the back of the channel from the get-go, but it seems like GB News is doing quite a good job of arranging its own demise.

Nigel Farage has been wheeled in to try and stem the ratings freefall. But will it be enough to save the channel? Founder and front-man, Andrew Neil, who has himself taken a break from presenting, was putting a brave face on things when he tweeted “Start ups are fraught and fractious. @GBNEWS is no exception. But the news channel is finding its feet and has a great future. Watch this space.”

For the moment, I guess that is all we can do.

This article was written by our chief executive, Angharad Neagle, and featured in the Western Mail on 26 July 2021