GB News, a new right-wing news channel, hit the airwaves last month, on 13 June 2021. Headed by climate change sceptic and former Murdoch press editor Andrew Neil, GB News intends to launch a ‘war on woke’ and fight against ‘cancel culture’.
Airtime aplenty has been given to those who oppose lockdowns; to Nigel Farage types, and other supposedly ‘cancelled’ people; to climate change deniers; and to anyone else holding various reactionary ideas.
Far from offering fresh perspectives on burning issues, however, the channel has become a point of ridicule. Since airing, GB News has been beset by problems and blunders. In short, the channel has flopped.
A number of advertisers have pulled their adverts, including IKEA, Koppaberg, Grolsch, Nivea and the Open University. Producers have been plagued by sound problems. Viewers have mockingly sent in fake names for news presenters to read aloud. And their ratings have been shockingly poor – paling in comparison to its supposed rivals at the BBC, ITV, and Sky.
To top it all off, their main frontman Andrew Neil has taken a two-week break after being on air for just two weeks – ominously promising to be back when we least expect it!
Andrew Neil: 31k— Victoria Derbyshire (@vicderbyshire) June 25, 2021
Funding and fairness
GB News claims to be ‘free, fair and impartial’. But with advertisers pulling the plug on funding, it is likely that the channel will have to rely on a subscription-based model. As the old saying goes: there's no such thing as a free lunch!
If modelled on Fox News, which charges a fixed monthly charge for certain content, the project could spiral down into even more reactionary, conspiratorial depths.
Far from offering a ‘fair’ perspective on the news, the channel already uses the bogeyman of the left and its so-called ‘woke agenda’ to justify its divisive gruel and vitriol.
We need only look at who is funding this farce. One key financial backer of GB News is Dubai-based hedge fund manager Sir Paul Marshall, who has personally invested £10 million in the channel.
Marshall – reportedly worth £630 million, according to the Sunday Times Rich List – was previously a major donor to both the Vote Leave campaign and Michael Gove’s Conservative Party leadership bid in 2016.
Similarly, another important supporter is investment firm Legatum, whose think tank is run by Conservative peer Baroness Philippa Stroud.
In short, the channel is (yet another) mouthpiece for Tories, reactionaries, and bankers.
The arrival of Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News in the USA is often said to have changed the way news is told. Little time, if any, is given to facts. Instead, the channel provides a platform for the opinions of oddballs and outcasts.
This type of abrasive broadcasting has widely seeped into mainstream media.
For evidence of this, look no further than ITV’s Good Morning Britain. Loudmouth aggressive hosts like Piers Morgan are given ample time to shout their Churchillian views, bully left-wingers, mock transgender people, and defend the monarchy to the hilt.
Similarly, despite never having been elected as an MP, or to any other major position in British politics, Nigel Farage, Laurence Fox, and many other right-wing renegades are always invited on to BBC Question Time.
The idea that these types of people have been ‘cancelled’ or are victims is laughable. If anything, they are given more airtime to spew their bile than anyone else!
GB News is therefore far from ground-breaking in handing these reactionary figures a microphone.
At its launch, GB News promised insightful and powerful stories about the realities that ordinary people face.
But the realities we never hear about – from GB News or any of the capitalist media – are the struggles of workers; migrants and refugees; children who live in poverty; or victims of domestic abuse, racism, homophobia, and police violence.
These are the real people whose voices are forgotten and forbidden in the billionaire press.
Instead, if you believed what you read on the news, it would be hard not to think that ‘culture wars’ are a – if not, the – defining feature of modern society.
To distract from their criminal handling of the pandemic, we have seen the Tories and their media mouthpieces wage a ‘war on woke’ over the past 18 months.
Figureheads at GB News believe that they are pioneering in now taking up this mantle. But the fact is that the rest of the capitalist media and Tory press has always pushed this rubbish: spewing out bigotry and whipping up xenophobia in order to divide the working class.
The paid and unpaid apologists of capitalism are throwing all that they have at keeping workers divided. This is the main weapon in the ruling class’ arsenal in this era of deep capitalist crisis; in the face of such acute political, economic, and social instability.
It is from a position of weakness – not of strength – that they so brazenly stoke up non-issues, in an attempt to divert attention and outrage down safer channels than those of class war.
We have also seen washed up newscasters throw their careers behind the channel.
Simon McCoy and Alastair Stuart, former newsreaders at the BBC and ITV respectively, have been pulled in. Dan Wootton, former tabloid editor at The Sun and the Daily Mail has also been given a key slot, as has right-wing Guido Fawkes commentator Tom Harwood.
To give some semblance of ‘balance’, meanwhile, producers have included right-wing Labour figures like Gloria De Piero.
Politically, culturally, and socially, there is barely anything to separate these newscasters. They are cut from the same careerist cloth.
That this rogues gallery all come from ‘established’ news channels goes some way to explain liberals queasy embarrassment and upset with GB news.
First and foremost, they oppose the discrediting of the liberal establishment press first. Only as an afterthought do they show any concern about the openly reactionary drivel that these mainstream media figures espouse.
In summary, far from offering a revolution in media, GB News is a poundshop Fox News, attracting a hotbed of newscasters who have passed their prime.
The arrival of GB News coincides with a consultation by Conservative Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden to privatise Channel 4.
Channel 4’s public remit is to champion unheard voices and stand up for the diversity of the UK. Their news broadcasts are among the most interesting in the mainstream media, with programmes such as Unreported World going to great lengths to report untold stories.
Channel 4 has also been more open to asking critical questions of the government. This is the real reason the Tories want the broadcaster privatised.
This cynical move was briefed during the 2019 general election, and was further fueled when Channel 4 held a leaders debate about the climate crisis. Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage refused to turn up, and producers replaced their podiums with a huge block of ice.
Similar processes are underway at the BBC. For example, the enormously popular and award-winning Victoria Derbyshire Show was cancelled.
2/ The show won awards at the RTS and from BAFTA. Victoria nominated for Best Presenter 4 years in a row - and won once. Digital impact was huge. Show was designed to reach audiences the BBC struggles to connect with, and it did - online— Amol Rajan (@amolrajan) January 22, 2020
The programme drew in young and working-class audiences – a demographic the BBC traditionally struggles to attract. Social issues that predominately affect working-class and LGBT people were put front and centre, such as sexual abuse and housing.
Cost-cutting was cited as part of the reason for scrapping the show. But undoubtedly there was also a political motivation behind the decision.
Privatisation will also continue to ravage smaller independent production companies, who produce much of the UK’s best and most-original content, as budgets are cut in order to boost profits.
For a workers’ press!
In reality, the ‘free’ press amounts to the freedom for the capitalists to wield the media as a powerful tool of propaganda – all in their own interests, of course. This freedom extends to attacking workers' wages, jobs and conditions.
This, once again, brings forward the question of the need for a media that is owned, run by, and for the working class.
Unions such as BECTU must actively play both an industrial and political role in fighting against privatisation and for workers’ control of the media.
The working class – through its own organisation – must fight for a media that represents its own class interests.
Former Unite general secretary candidate Howard Beckett proposed the idea of Unite TV: an idea that is now backed by Steve Turner. Left-wing MP Richard Burgon also raised the idea of a mass Labour Party newspaper when running for deputy leader.
These are promising steps in the right direction. As Leon Trotsky once commented, the best way to break the power of the billionaire press is to build the workers’ press.
This question has never been more relevant. And that is why we also ask for your continued support of Socialist Appeal, the Marxist voice of labour and youth.