How GB News’ ‘free speech’ propaganda sent it into a free fall

By Louis Shankar

Published Sep 28, 2021 at 10:50 AM

Reading time: 2 minutes

GB News is a disaster. There’s no two ways about it. Even Nigel Farage—their last-ditch desperate attempt to tempt viewers and assuage plummeting ratings—is struggling.

Andrew Neil, one of the driving forces behind the channel, left the organisation last week in a very public spat. He only presented a handful of shows before going on an extended break—during which he managed, eventually, to get out of his multimillion-pound contract. In an interview with the Daily Mail, he described his time there as “the worst eight months in my career.” Somewhat melodramatically, he claimed his experience was worse than being on an IRA hit list.

I have zero sympathy for Neil. It was clear from the outset what sort of operation GB News would be. They used his reputation and connections to give the project a veneer of respect. It was never about free speech or shifting the conversation, really—but a soulless attempt to stoke and profit from culture wars and conservative online discourse.

GB News is a failure in any measurable capacity. They count it as a win when they out-perform BBC News or Sky News, but focus entirely on the rolling news channels, which I’ve never known anyone to actively watch, merely tolerate. Their viewing figures pale in comparison to any major terrestrial news programming. Famously, a few months back, the Welsh language version of Paw PatrolPatrôl Pawennau—was outperforming them in the ratings.

Put simply, the channel launched before it was ready. The poor production quality and litany of technical issues were widely mocked online. They had next to no rehearsals. “The CEO wanted to get on air, even if it was ramshackle, and then improve things,” claimed Neil when speaking to the Daily Mail. Quality hasn’t noticeably improved since, though, with regular factual inaccuracies and spelling errors of their own presenters’ names.

They managed to alienate significant chunks of their own viewer base when one of their presenters took the knee to protest racist abuse suffered by footballers after the Euro 2020 final; Guto Harri was suspended for his actions, then proceeded to quit. The hypocrisy of a channel founded on free speech was evident from the outset—‘free speech’ was, yet again, being used as an excuse for outdated or bigoted opinions. Left-wing commentators routinely decline invitations to join debates—because no meaningful debate ever happens, it’s just a machine to generate outrage.

Perhaps they aimed too high. 24-hour political commentary and coverage is a lot to manage,  especially without third party content to fill the schedule. They didn’t want to provide breaking news coverage—due to the costs and logistics that would entail—but without any, the commentary often feels dry or slow. At a time when media consumption is becoming increasingly bite-sized, it seems like a strange decision to introduce a new news channel. Much of their most successful content are often short, viral clips that circulate online.

And, now, after previously abandoning such plans, it seems like the malevolent nonagenarian Rupert Murdoch is set to swoop in and set up a rival channel. He brings with him everything that GB News lacks: adequate funding and a modicum of experience. talkTV will launch early next year, with Piers Morgan presenting the flagship slot. Rumour has it that many at GB News are hoping for cushy new jobs at talkTV. News UK promises “proper hourly news bulletins, sports and entertainment shows […] current affairs, debate, opinion and documentaries.” A wider array of content might prove more popular and more successful.

Despite its questionable success, GB News doesn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon. It has found a rather small core group of supporters who staunchly defend the programming, believing it to be more trustworthy than its competition despite, objectively, being a right-wing echo chamber edging further and further to the right. It will, it seems, continue to churn out mediocre political analysis for the foreseeable future. It appears doubtful that it will have the impact the channel’s founders had hoped—if anything, they’ve managed to prove how vital our other news operations are.

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