Today
Sun 5 December 2021

We cannot simply ignore the new network, contends Sam Bright

Though generally not in favour of open borders, the British right has been less opposed to the idea of freedom of political exchange with America in recent years.

As documented extensively by Byline Times and by Carole Cadwalladr for the Observer, the Donald Trump and Brexit campaigns shared political slogans, data schemes and key personnel.

The latest iteration of this cross-pollination seems to be the launch of GB News – an ‘anti-woke’ broadcaster led by former BBC presenter Andrew Neil, with a helping hand from various American interests. The ‘woke’ label is itself an American import.

GB News’ opening night was met with some eviscerating reviews. Neil will likely shake this off as entirely expected – a symptom of the mainstream media being hopelessly out of touch. After all, despite being funded by billionaire backers to the tune of £60 million, GB News claims to be anti-establishment.

I watched as French resident Neil spoke of the rigour, authenticity and balance of his new platform. “If it matters to you, it matters to us,” he repeated.

I was criticised for covering the launch, as were others; accused of giving GB News the attention that it so craves. I am sympathetic towards this argument and agree that Neil’s platform is essentially an exercise in confected outrage. However, ignoring GB News entirely would be to abandon the truth – inviting bad actors to macerate hard facts and concoct a series of politically-charged myths.

The first thing to acknowledge is that GB News has a platform. It has a £25 million annual budget and will be covered extensively by the dominant right-wing press, which is desperate for content that both drives clicks and affirms a worldview steeped in the ‘culture war’. GB News, in this respect, seems as though it will be a gift for those who seek to promote populism.

So, how then should its content be handled?

As with any individual or organisation which has – or seeks to have – influence, its output and motives should be scrutinised and any misinformation debunked. On this front, GB News should also rightly attract the attention of its regulator, Ofcom, if it does not confirm to rules on broadcasters’ impartiality.

In his opening monologue, for example, Neil promised that “if you want fake news, lies, disinformation, distortion of the facts, conspiracy theories, then GB News is not for you”.

An hour later, however, presenter Dan Wootton said: “Lockdowns are a crude measure. Mark my words, we will discover that they have caused far more deaths and devastation than the Government has ever admitted. They should be wiped from the public health playbook forever more. But tragically the doomsday scientists and public health officials have taken control. They are addicted to power and the Government’s 15-month-long, never-ending scare campaign has suitably terrified the public into supporting lockdowns.”

It is not unreasonable to state that Wootton’s views border on conspiracy theory and misinformation – suggesting that public health officials are in fact power-crazed despots determined to shackle Britain to lockdown measures indefinitely.

Later, he interviewed Lord Alan Sugar, whose brother and sister both died from COVID-19 – two of the 150,000 lives that have been lost to a disease that has repeatedly pushed the NHS to breaking point.


A Weapon in the Culture War

GB News is keen to project an image of authenticity, couched on the idea that it will represent a large swathe of ordinary people who have been abandoned by the ‘woke’ mainstream. This is difficult to substantiate.

For example, the vast majority of people in the UK have consistently been in favour of lockdowns as a way to stem the ever-rising tide of COVID-19. Polled in February by YouGov, 46% of those surveyed agreed with Boris Johnson’s relatively cautious time-frame for the withdrawal of lockdown restrictions, while 26% thought that his plan was too quick. Only 16% thought that he should drop lockdown measures more quickly.

Another source of aggravation for GB News, as shown in its opening hours of coverage, is the Black Lives Matter movement and the decision of the England football team to take the knee before its European Championship games – a symbolic protest against racial injustice. England players are “effectively waging a culture war against fans,” said GB News presenter Inaya Folarin Iman.

In reality, according to those surveyed by YouGov, 97% of people have heard of Black Lives Matter and 47% have a positive view of the movement, with 29% saying they have a negative view of it. GB News therefore appears to be representing and validating a minority of Brits who hold these opinions – not the country at large.

“We are proud to be British; the clue is in the name,” Neil said in his opening speech. Yet this claim is hardly bolstered by the fact that all of GB News’ major shareholders are based outside of the UK. Neil himself is listed on Companies House as living in France.

These are the people who are funding GB News

Finally, in terms of its supposed balance, the platform has hired two former Brexit Party politicians as presenters, while two senior Conservative Party parliamentarians are shareholders, owning at least £50,000 in shares each.

If journalists had not engaged with GB News, these facts would not be known. The only response, on the part of responsible journalists, surely must be to amplify the truth as a counter-weight to the platform.

By way of comparison, take the Sun – the former employer of Wootton. This week, it was announced that its owner Rupert Murdoch has marked the value of the newspaper down to zero, after it recorded a £197 million loss. Yet, despite this, Murdoch will continue to fund the outlet – because it acts as a mouthpiece for his worldview. The only place that has resisted its corrupting influence is Liverpool – enlightened and appalled by the treatment of Hillsborough victims by the newspaper. The truth won out on Merseyside, even if the rest of the country has not followed its lead.

This is not to say that journalists should cover every wilful misapprehension or fabricated row that rolls out of the GB News studio. But, as a new weapon in the right’s culture war, we shouldn’t hesitate from exposing its deceptions and hypocrisies.

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