Today
Tue 28 September 2021

The new network looks set for a showdown with Ofcom, reports Sam Bright

One of the founders of GB News has suggested that the new TV network could run a campaign targeting and lambasting MPs, Lords and officials who were perceived as being opposed to Brexit.

Posting on LinkedIn over the weekend, Andrew Cole said that GB News would launch “critical campaigns” and “special enquiries [sic]” in order to “expose those who act in the worst interests of the UK”.

Cole cited an example, saying that GB News could run a campaign pushing for an inquiry “into certain MPs, members of the Lords and civil servants who acted against the UK and in favour of a foreign entity (the EU) during the Brexit years.”

Presumably this inquiry would investigate claims of sedition or treason – two spurious allegations levied against anti-Brexit campaigners during the years when the UK was negotiating its departure from the EU.


This statement of intent from Cole about those who don’t have the interests of the UK at heart is both ironic and problematic.

First, the irony. As Byline Times has previously exposed, GB News is majority owned by people who do not live in the UK.

The platform is owned by a firm called All Perspectives Limited, of which four parties have a significant control of shares. Three are individuals, all of whom live in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). One is listed as having Maltese nationality, and one is originally from New Zealand. GB News has been heavily funded by Legatum, an investment firm based in the UAE.

The fourth controlling party – Discovery Communications Europe Limited – is merely the subsidiary of an American company, based in New York.

All Perspectives has eight officers/directors, half of whom are not listed as living in the UK. This includes the star of the show, former BBC presenter Andrew Neil, who is listed as living in France.

Andrew Cole, who sits on the board of the (Anglo-Dutch-American) telecommunications company Liberty Global, came up with the initial idea for GB News with British-American Mark Schneider, also formerly of Liberty, in 2018.

The pair met for dinner at the Petersham Hotel, in Richmond-upon-Thames, according to Bloomberg, and “would take inspiration from Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News, which had turned its brand of conservative-led opinion shows into a $5.5 billion-a-year media colossus,” according to the media outlet.

However, the UK broadcasting ecosystem is very different to the USA, and Cole’s campaigns present a problem in terms of impartiality. GB News will be regulated by Ofcom, which sets stringent guidelines in relation to political balance – far more stringent than any of the bodies that regulate the print media.

“Due impartiality on matters of political or industrial controversy and matters relating to current public policy must be preserved,” the Ofcom guidelines read. This can be delivered within one programme or within a series of interlinked programmes. In other words: a fair hearing must be given to both sides of a political debate either within a standalone show or across a series.

In the case of Brexit, it’s therefore feasible that – under Ofcom rules – GB News would be obliged to also run a campaign targeting MPs, Lords and officials who supported the UK’s departure from the EU, in order to fulfil its impartiality responsibilities.

“Presenters of ‘personal view’ or ‘authored’ programmes or items, and chairs of discussion programmes may express their own views on matters of political or industrial controversy or matters relating to current public policy. However, alternative viewpoints must be adequately represented either in the programme, or in a series of programmes taken as a whole,” the guidelines continue to say.

This is not the case for news reporters, who should not express their opinions on matters of political controversy.

Given how GB News has been pitched so far – as a vocally “anti-woke” alternative to the BBC – it is difficult to imagine how it will abide by Ofcom’s rules. As another example, the guidelines state that, “No politician may be used as a newsreader, interviewer or reporter in any news programmes unless, exceptionally, it is editorially justified.”

GB News has so far hired two individuals who were politicians until very recently – Alex Phillips and Michelle Dewberry. The former was a Brexit Party Member of European Parliament from 2019 to 2020 and used to work for SCL Group, the parent company of Cambridge Analytica. The latter stood for the Brexit Party at the 2019 General Election in Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle.

GB News did not respond to Byline Times’ request for comment.

OUR JOURNALISM RELIES ON YOU

Byline Times is funded by its subscribers. Receive our monthly print edition and help to support fearless, independent journalism.

Thank you for reading this article

New to Byline Times? Find out more about us


SUBSCRIBE TO THE PRINT EDITION

A new type of newspaper – independent, fearless, outside the system. Fund a better media.

Don’t miss a story…

Our leading investigations include Brexit, Empire & the culture war, Russian interference, Coronavirus, cronyism and far right radicalisation. We also introduce new voices of colour in Our Lives Matter.

More stories filed under The Crisis in British Journalism

More stories filed under Fact