You are currently browsing the daily archive for June 14, 2021.

On Sunday evening, June 13, 2021, Andrew Neil’s GB News channel (Freeview 236) launched in the UK.

Andrew Neil has had a long career in broadcast and print journalism, having helped launch Sky News in the UK. He presented political programmes for the BBC for many years and is also chairman of The Spectator.

The satirical magazine Private Eye refers to him as Brillo because of his hair.

The channel began broadcasting at 8 p.m., with a one-hour introduction from Neil laying out the agenda and introducing the viewing audience to its presenters and regional reporters:

Neil was broadcasting from London, rather than his home in the south of France, as he has done during the pandemic for Spectator TV.

My far better half and I watched this and one hour of Dan Wootton’s show, which followed at 9 p.m.:

Dan Wootton’s show had a few glitches, with guests’ online connections dropping and a synch problem between video and audio.

Nonetheless, the channel’s first night ratings were good:

Their audience share was treble that of Sky News:

Guido Fawkes posted a summary of the reviews in the press. Incidentally, Guido’s Tom Harwood resigned a few months ago to become the Westminster correspondent for GB News.

Guido’s post says, in part (emphases in the original):

It’s all systems go for GB News. Opening with a one hour mission statement from Chairman Brillo (from a tiny, under-lit set which someone on Twitter described as looking like “the inside of a PlayStation“), the fledging news channel finally started broadcasting at 8pm last night. Inevitably, there were teething problems: dodgy cuts, out of sync audio, odd camera angles etc etc. Dark clothes against a dark set just doesn’t work visually. Television is hard.

The aesthetic problems will undoubtedly be ironed out over time. For now, the initial reaction from social media and the punditry went about as you’d expect; Owen Jones tried to dunk on it, the Telegraph gave it four stars. Here’s the full round-up:

    • The Guardian wasted no time in writing it off. No doubt reviewer Stuart Jeffries beamed ear-to-ear as he called it “utterly deadly stuff”, and declared he “give[s] it a year” before it’s taken off-air. He gave it one star, obviously.
    • The Times were more generous: three stars for a channel which “may yet bite“, though marking it down for the obvious technical shortcomings. A running theme amongst most reviews…
    • The Telegraph’s four star review praised its “no sneering” attitude, and that in spite of the glitches, “GB News is already speaking [the] language” of those frustrated by lockdown. They also made the point that opening with Dan Wootton was probably a mistake, given his opening diatribe about lockdown: “What the channel cried out for was the firmest hand on the tiller from the go. If you were unsure about GB News’s claims of impartiality, you needed Brazier or McCoy to take your hand on the first night. Wootton will have scared a few nervous horses” …

GB News were pleased to say launch night saw them average 164,400 viewers with Sky News garnering only 57,000 viewers. Can they surpass Sky News regularly?

I hope so. My better half thought it was too amateurish. As Guido says, ‘Television is hard’, especially on launch night. I will definitely be tuning in when BBC Parliament is showing a rerun.

Speaking of Parliament, Conservative MP David Jones liked it:

The channel also has half-hourly weather forecasts from the Met Office:

A live stream is on their website. Selected videos are posted there and on YouTube.

GB News took well over a year to reach its launch:

Their signature tune came first:

Investors had to be found:

Britons were eager for a news channel that represents their interests:

On January 28, 2021, Dan Wooton left talkRADIO for GB News.

A week later, people were attempting to boycott a channel that hadn’t even launched, including Jolyon Maugham, director of the Good Law Project:

This was Andrew Neil’s response:

At that time, Neil wrote an article for The Express explaining why he was launching a new channel (emphases mine):

I’m proud to be the chairman of GB News and, as you may have read, I have left the BBC after 25 years to host a nightly programme on the channel.

I’m doing it because 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.

The Mail‘s Michael Crick empathised and had a go at Jolyon Maugham:

The channel began attracting broadcasting talent: Sky News’s Colin Brazier, Channel 4’s Liam Halligan, the BBC’s Simon McCoy, conservative commentator Mercy Muroki and Times Radio’s Gloria De Piero (also a former Labour MP and presenter on an ITV breakfast show).

By April 27, Rupert Murdoch decided not to launch a similar rival channel, News UK:

At least one journalist is rankled that GB News has overseas funding:

On May 21, Press Gazette revealed more about GB News:

The channel’s director of news, John McAndrew, is a 25-year industry veteran who has worked for the BBC, Sky News, ITN and NBC.

Interviewed by Press Gazette three days ahead of the channel’s launch, he said: “My view of our channel, and certainly how it’s going to be, is that it will be a very warm, inclusive channel where disagreements will be had, tough subjects will absolutely be taken on, but they’ll be taken on in a classy and courteous fashion.

What this won’t be is a hate-filled divisive shout-fest that some people seem to have characterised it as, which is 180 degrees away from where we want to be.”

Speaking to the FT Future of News conference Neil revealed that GB News plans to launch in other countries after the UK and has been looking at Spain and Eastern Europe. He said: “They will be distinctive news channels for distinctive markets. We still believe news is national.”

On May 25, Ryan Bourne from the Cato Institute wrote a column for Conservative Home about the channel:

it’s perfectly within the Ofcom rules to build a news channel that will run different stories or perspectives – and Neil wants to run “good news” stories and shift away from assuming every problem has a government solution. You are allowed to hire, as GB News has, card-carrying conservatives, ex-Labour MPs or people from outside of London with very different assumptions in thinking about what news is important. And, yes, you are free to have colourful presenters with attitude to liven up discussions, provided you still showcase various perspectives.

Why, then, are some on the left so afraid of this pluralism? Maybe they don’t accept biases exist on other news channels (Channel 4 News, really?), and so think any stated attempt to counter them is retrogressive. Perhaps they simply fear a politically strengthened  conservatism. For others, no doubt, there is a concern that the Government’s mooted appointment of Paul Dacre to Ofcom is a precursor to watering down impartiality rules as well.

But given that no such policy has been signalled, and we have not yet seen GB News in action, we must judge them at their word. Neil himself thinks, rightly, that a “British Fox” riding roughshod over Ofcom rules just wouldn’t be successful. “Overwhelmingly, Brits value impartiality and accuracy and, during recent years, in fact, the proportion of Brits thinking the BBC and ITV provide an impartial service has fallen.” GB News is keen to harness that particular audience, yes. But having spoken to numerous staffers, they are determined to avoid political bias, and to be robust in providing respectful disagreement more broadly too.

The Evening Standard‘s Insider posted an in-depth article on June 10. Susannah Butter’s piece covers a lot of ground, including on the channel’s investors.

This seems to have been the initial title (h/t Guido Fawkes reader who posted it):

https://image.vuukle.com/afdabdfb-de55-452b-b000-43e4d45f1094-716e6930-ce55-4715-b47e-1910e025a9f2

Susannah Butter interviewed Andrew Neil, who had returned from France and was quarantining:

Neil is speaking to me from quarantine in West London, having recently returned from his house in the Cote d’Azur where he has been for the past year with his wife, Swedish engineer and communications executive Susan Nilsson, 52. They married in 2015 and Neil has 14 godchildren but no children of his own. He is straight-talking if occasionally gently cantankerous, saying he only agreed to speak because I “caught him at a weak moment” – and he wants to get one thing clear: GB News is not the British Fox News. “That is an easy, inaccurate shorthand for what we are trying to do. In terms of format we are like Fox but we won’t be like Fox in that they come from a hard right disinformation fake news conspiracy agenda. I have worked too long and hard to build up a journalistic reputation to consider going down that route.” There is a “strong editorial charter written into everybody’s contracts saying that if they spread fake news and conspiracy theories they will face disciplinary action”. Neil’s hope is not to destroy the other channels, more to provide variety and raise the bar. “We are in a competitive environment they know that. I suspect [our rival TV channels] will up their game, that’s fine, the only winner is the viewer.”

This is how the channel began:

GB News was not Neil’s idea – the founders are Andrew Cole and Mark Schneider who both come from a business background – but Neil has been wanting to do something like this for a long time

Cole and Schneider contacted Neil last summer when he was “in the middle of rather, err, meandering negotiations with the BBC”. His interview show had been cancelled and Politics Live was taken off air; he has said that “what [the BBC] did was unnecessary and I left with a heavy heart… but what’s done is done.” By September he was convinced because he “rather liked the idea of being chairman as well as prime time presenter. At The Spectator, my pride and joy, I have a business angle too, as chairman”.

Early hires include former Associate Editor of The Sun Dan Wootton and The Apprentice’s Michelle Dewberry, who was a vocal Brexit supporter.

Piers Morgan will not be joining the GB News lineup, at least for now:

“It would be nice to have him,” says Neil who is in discussions with Morgan about joining and adds diplomatically: “But he’s got his own idea of what he is worth and we have a slightly different idea of what he’s worth. He is in a lucky situation because ITV are continuing to pay him a tonne of money so he doesn’t have to do anything in the short run. I don’t think he’s going to go anywhere else in the UK. If he has a huge American offer that’s a different matter. No one in the UK can compete with that but if he’s going to do more UK news TV I hope it will be with us.”

The channel will have a regular five-minute feature called ‘Woke Watch’:

Neil enjoys its alliterative title and says while he is “poking fun”, he is seriously concerned about its implications. “Cancel culture is insidious, it stands against everything we have stood for since the enlightenment onwards and that is why it is serious,” he says. “The original meaning of woke was somebody who was aware of social justice issues and who can complain about that? But it is not about social justice anymore, it is about conformity of thinking and it exists in many of our elite institutions from NGOs to the National Trust and parts of our media. Of course it is making huge inroads into our places of higher education. It is not the view of the British people but if it is the view of all these elites in favour of it could become very powerful.”

… He takes a breath. “Look this is a five minute segment in an hour long show but it will be an important part of the output. Humour is a good weapon especially when you are up against po-faced people who take themselves too seriously.”

The channel’s output will target those living outside Britain’s metropolitan areas:

GB News aims to attract two kinds of viewers, people who already watch the news and “may be a bit unhappy with the existing channels” and people who have stopped watching or don’t. “GB News will be more non-metropolitan than existing channels, more provincial which is a good thing. The provincial voice has not been powerful enough in Britain. We are for people who think the existing channels don’t quite represent how they see things.”

Neil discussed the channel’s investors:

Neil says they were overwhelmed with offers of funding but were selective about which ones they accepted. He wants to talk about their leading investor, the Discovery Channel, but money has also come from Sir Paul Marshall, a Brexiteer hedge fund manager and founder of the Right-leaning opinion site UnHerd, and Legatum, a Dubai-based investment firm. Legatum’s chairman Christopher Chandler, a New Zealand-born billionaire and international financier, is a partner of Legatum Group, a funder of the separate Legatum Institute, a Mayfair-based think tank which is dedicated to finding “pathways to prosperity” and was one of the most prominent advocates for a hard Brexit.

Neil will only say that he “didn’t want any sovereign wealth fund money”. “I didn’t want stuff from Abu Dhabi or Qatar. I said I’d take Norwegian wealth fund money because I don’t think we would be worrying about them but they weren’t offering. And I was reluctant to take money from investors who see themselves as the next Rupert Murdoch because I have already had one Rupert Murdoch in my life. That ended 26 years ago and I have never seen him since. At this stage in my life I am not having another one.”

Neil, quite rightly, does not understand why people would object to the name GB News:

“I am not sure why calling it GB News would be awkward,” he says, responding to those who have objected to the name. “We are British, I am British; I don’t think there is any embarrassment in it. Indeed it is the opposite, we are proud to be British. We will be fair and accurate but we won’t start out from that default position among the incumbents that whatever Britain does must be useless. That was heightened by the Brexit debate and we don’t want to reflect that. We will report all the faults and weaknesses of this country but we also take a certain pride in being British and our successes, the vaccine rollout being one example.”

All this patriotism is well and good but doesn’t Neil now live mainly in France? “This is my country, just because I don’t live here full time anymore doesn’t mean I don’t care,” he says.

Neil’s regular one-hour show will also have a segment called ‘Media Watch’:

“All journalists get things wrong and it is important that we move to put them right quickly and put our hands up and apologise. We have a go at politicians for not admitting their mistakes and then we do the same thing.” GB News will not be immune from Media Watch.

The channel will not be featuring a blockbuster interview immediately:

They have actually decided against launching with a big interview, “because then the story becomes the interview and I would much rather the story becomes the channel, we will get to the interview”. “Times Radio launched with a big interview with Boris Johnson. We’ve decided not to go down that route.”

Neil is not yet ready to retire:

It all sounds like a lot of work – does Neil ever want to retire? “You are right. Lockdown has made me appreciate the virtues of retirement or at least semi-retirement more than I thought I might. I thought I had one more big gig in me and this is it. If we can make a success of GB News that’s when I’ll declare victory and go home.” I doubt he would disappear though. He says: “I would continue to do the odd bit of TV and writing and I certainly want to keep going with The Spectator. It’s quite good at some stage to get to a situation where you can do whatever you want to do from wherever you want to be.”

I ask Neil, one of the best interviewers in the business, if I have left anything out? “I think you know more than enough,” he says. “Can I go now?”

Although Neil very much enjoyed his 25 years at the BBC and was particularly grateful to the help and support from the staffers there, he has objected to some of the recent programming output. On May 30, The Express reported:

Mr Neil has never shied away from controversy on or off screen during his time at the broadcaster.

Never was this more clear than when he called the BBC out – while working for the broadcaster – for airing a specially crafted version of Horrible Histories, using archive episodes to create a song to mark the day the UK left the EU

Mr Neil commented: “This is anti-British drivel of a high order.

“Was any of the licence fee used to produce something purely designed to demean us?”

On June 11, Simon McCoy discussed his departure from the BBC and revealed that he voted Leave in the 2016 Brexit referendum. The Telegraph reported:

“People had whiplash by 2 o’clock. Because for three hours it was: ‘Oh, he’s leaving, the A4 Royal watcher, how sad.’ And then, ‘The b—–’s going to GB News! What a right-wing gammon.’” He gives a mock sigh. “I was rather enjoying a couple of hours of adulation.”

Some valiantly tried to give McCoy the benefit of the doubt, but hang on: “I think it’s interesting that people think: ‘He’s gone to GB News to balance it out because he’s a leftie BBC journalist.’ I’m certainly not.” He’s even willing to lay his cards on the table: yes, Simon McCoy voted Leave

When he talks about Brexit, it’s in measured tones. “We’re a Brexit country. I do think we need to embrace it and, for all its faults, we’ve got to make it work.”

He joined GB News partly because he fancied the challenge: “I loved the BBC; the job was great, but I just thought, ‘Here I am, nearly 60 – do I want to stay here, probably not getting any further? Or do I want to try something new?’”

And he also has a conviction, after 15 years at Sky News and 17 years at the BBC, that those news providers are focusing on the wrong things. “If you watch other bulletins you’ll know very much what’s happening in Idlib or Tel Aviv or Washington. This is about the UK,” he says.

“Rather than obsessing with what’s happening abroad, let’s just look at what’s happening within the UK. While I don’t want to sound jingoistic or insular or Little Englander, I think we could all benefit from just knowing about our own country a little more.”

Neil Oliver, a Scot who presents television programmes on archaeology, is fiercely pro-Union and a vocal critic of the SNP’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. He will have his own GB News show. The Express carried the story:

Last month, the BBC’s veteran presenter of a string of history shows, Mr Oliver, was announced as having joined the lineup.

The archaeologist and historian has become a central voice in Scottish politics and, like Andrew Neil who he will work alongside, is a fierce critic of Nicola Sturgeon.

He has previously accused the Scottish First Minister of “making a fool of Scotland” and said she had made him “sick to my stomach”

He talked of history being viewed as the lifetime of a person, and that people today are the children of this person, in this case, the British Isles.

This was vital to understanding how interwoven the devolved nations are, he argued, and explained: “More and more we dare to patronise the place, treat the person like a doddery old soul who cannot cope alone, who might even need to be taken into care.

“To me, the truth is altogether different. This place, these islands have taken care of us since a time beyond the reach of memory. Treated properly, they will continue to do so

“The story of the British Isles is one every single one of us should know and give thanks for.”

On June 2, The Express reported:

The freelance archaeologist will host a new weekly current affairs and interview programme. Mr Oliver’s show will focus on “the people from all walks of life who make Britain great”, according to the announcement put out by the broadcaster …

Commenting on joining GB News, Mr Oliver said: “My career has always been driven by my fascination with people, whether it’s trying to understand ancient people through archaeology or living ones through journalism.

“Debate in this country has been stifled for so long that GB News feels like opening a window and letting some fresh air, fresh perspectives and fresh voices.

“I never imagined my career would take this turn but I’m hugely excited that it has”

Before the 2014 independence referendum, Mr Oliver stated in an interview with The Herald, that he was “proud of Britain”.

He also noted his dislike of the forthcoming referendum, saying he found “this kind of internecine squabbling puts my teeth on edge. I would rather that it would just go away – or that it had never happened”.

He went on to say that he “liked the status quo”.

As a result of his comments, when he was appointed President of the National Trust for Scotland, thousands signed petitions calling on him to resign.

In December 2020, Mr Oliver reasserted his apparent personal opposition to Scottish independence, describing the uncertainty caused by the prospect of a second referendum as a “cancerous presence”.

Neil Oliver appeared on Sunday:

On the launch day of GB News, The Express reported that a spokesman for the channel alleged that the BBC was trying to restrict their access to news footage:

Britain’s public service broadcaster was attempting to “ambush” and “damage” Sunday’s launch of the right-leaning television channel, a spokesperson for GB News has claimed. A GB News spokesman said: “This is an ambush by the BBC designed to damage the launch of GB News. It is an attempt to protect their dominance of UK news broadcasting.

“We will fight it.

“And our launch continues.”

This has happened before when the Press Association said in 2010 it was unable to access footage from “single-camera assignments” that were categorised as coming under the ownership of the UK Broadcast Pool.

The UK Broadcast Pool comprises the BBC, Sky News and ITN.

The launch was successful.

True to their pledge, GB News is focusing on what matters to Britons, such as this lady from Birmingham:

In closing, Tom Harwood says that GB News are aware of enhancements that need to be made, including the addition of a live stream on YouTube:

I’m thrilled to bits for GB News and do intend to become a regular viewer.

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