British broadcasting heavyweight Andrew Neil is at the helm of the GB News channel
Here’s a story that BBC News might not be going very big on this weekend: a rival station launches on Sunday.
GB News will be the first big newcomer to the world of TV current affairs since Sky News appeared in 1989. And at the helm is one of the heavyweights of British broadcasting, Andrew Neil.
The former Sunday Times editor and Daily Mail columnist spent 25 years at the BBC, presenting The Week, The Daily Politics, The Andrew Neil Show, and doing his bit on election nights.
Then suddenly his forensic, fact-packed interviewing style fell out of favour. In July last year he revealed that he’d become ‘surplus to requirements’ and was considering his options.
When Tim Davie took over as director-general in the autumn he tried to persuade him to stay on but it was too little too late and Mr Neil left in September and shortly afterwards announced plans to set up the new station.
What can viewers expect?
There’ll be no rolling news or even hourly bulletins among its annual output of 6,500 hours of programming, but the sort of debate and discussion shows that Mr Neil presented at the BBC. He’ll even be hosting the opening programme, at 8pm on Sunday.
Pictured: studio of new British television news channel GB News which is under construction at The Point in Paddington, north London. The channel is set to launch at 8pm on June 13
It won’t be a 24-hour service either. Broadcasts will begin at 6am and will close down at midnight. Just like TV did in the old days. Perhaps they should bring back the little white dot and high-pitched whine that once warned sleepy viewers not to leave the set on all night.
The biggest difference, though, will be cultural. If a minister appears with a Union Jack and a picture of the Queen in the background, GB News presenters won’t get the giggles.
Is it fox news with a British accent?
The shadow of America’s Fox News has loomed over the new channel from the start. Fox is opinionated and robustly Right-wing: it was one of the few mainstream media outlets which had a good word to say about President Trump.
Mr Neil insists that GB News — which will conform to rules on impartiality set by the TV regulator Ofcom — will not be Fox UK.
Pictured: Presenters in the GB News studio located within The Point, Paddington, London
‘There are two groups who are going to be very disappointed,’ he says.
‘Those who want us to be like Fox News and those who say we will be like Fox News’.
The new station, which is based in Paddington, West London, hopes to appeal more to the regions — people like Boris Johnson’s Red Wall voters — rather than the metropolitan classes.
Who are the stars on screen?
Apart from Mr Neil, one of the star turns will be former ITN newsreader Alastair Stewart, surely the only broadcaster ever to step down after quoting Shakespeare.
During a spat on Twitter — where else? — he quoted the following lines from Measure for Measure: ‘But man, proud man, dress’d in a little brief authority, most ignorant of what he’s most assur’d. His glassy essence — like an angry ape — plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven as makes the angels weak.’
Alastair Stewart and Gloria De Piero will join the team at GB News when it launches this month
His opponent in the argument, about the funding of the monarchy, was black and complained about the phrase ‘angry ape’.
Although Stewart had used the same quotation in a previous row with a white opponent, he parted company with ITN.
His GB News colleague Gloria de Piero is a former Labour MP who returned to broadcasting — she’d previously been political editor of GMTV — after falling out with her party.
She had complained about a ‘lack of tolerance of different viewpoints’.
No self-respecting news channel can launch without a heavyweight morning show and The Great British Breakfast will be presented by a rotating team of six, including BBC veteran Nana Akua and ex-Sky Sports News anchor Kirsty Gallacher.
Former Apprentice winner Michelle Dewberry (left) will present a show called Dewbs & Co while ex-Sky Sports anchor Kirsty Gallacher (right) will join the GB News team’s morning show
Other signings include MailOnline columnist Dan Wootton, historian Neil Oliver, social commentator Mercy Muroki, and Michelle Dewberry, a former winner of The Apprentice.
She will present a show called Dewbs & Co, which sounds more like a dance troupe on Britain’s Got Talent.
Will we finally see the real McCoy?
One of the station’s biggest coups was poaching Simon McCoy from the BBC, where he read the news with a metaphorical raised eyebrow and an occasional air of disbelief.
In October 2017 he was on air when the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge confirmed that they were expecting a baby in April.
This was his reaction: ‘Bearing in mind that they announced that she was pregnant back in September and it was thought that she was around two or three months pregnant, I’m not sure how much news this really is.
‘But anyway, it’s April so clear your diaries, get the time booked off, because that’s what I’m doing.’
McCoy will present an afternoon show with Alex Phillips, a former Brexit Party MP and head of media for Ukip, who had a career in regional TV news before going into politics.
GB News’s other big hire as a news anchor is Colin Brazier, who joins GB News after spending 23 years with Sky News.
Who’s warming the subs’ bench?
Just to keep the other presenters on their toes, Mr Neil has hinted that another big signing might be made once the station has settled down.
Piers Morgan is in discussions about a possible role.
Ratings at ITV’s Good Morning Britain fell sharply to 450,000 — from a peak of 1.9m viewers — after he was forced to leave the show for criticising the Duchess of Sussex.
Channel will launch at 8pm on June 13 with a special programme called Welcome To GB News.
Where does the money come from?
The station raised £60 million, largely from three main investors: the American media group Discovery; the hedge fund manager Sir Paul Marshall; and Legatum, an investment company based in Dubai.
GB News — to be funded by advertising — is expected to employ around 150 people.
To give you some idea of what they’re up against, BBC News employs 6,000 people.
Is there really a gap in the news market?
If ever there was a chance to steal viewers from the BBC, it is now when the corporation appears to be losing the trust of the nation (see accompanying column by Mick Hume, left).
A YouGov survey earlier this year found that 54 per cent of people think the BBC does not represent their values.
Pictured: Computers and TV monitors from the offices of GB News which is under construction
An earlier Ofcom report, criticising the corporation for bias, found that the BBC was seen as the least impartial television news service.
And don’t forget, this was long before the uproar over Martin Bashir’s interview with Princess Diana.
How to watch
You’ll find GB News at Freeview channel 236, Freesat 216, Sky 515, Virgin TV 626, and Youview 236.
You might need to retune your television. To do this, select Menu and then Set-Up, Installation, or Update. Most sets have an automatic scan option. Or just ask one of the children to do it.
What’s the worst that can happen?
The station was reportedly struggling with some of the new technology earlier this week, but whatever happens on Sunday can’t be worse than the launch of BBC2 in 1964.
The station was due to appear with great fanfare at 7.20pm on April 20 in the presence of journalists, politicians, and a kangaroo (the station’s pre-publicity featured a baby roo emerging from a pouch).
Unfortunately a widespread power cut struck at just after 6.30pm. All that expectant viewers were offered was a news bulletin read by Gerald Priestland from Alexandra Palace in North London, which still had power.
Even he couldn’t be heard for two minutes because of a sound problem. So he read the news again, and then gave up.
To top off the evening, the kangaroo went berserk after getting stuck in a lift.
How the Beeb created it’s own enemy
By Mick Hume
Andrew Neil, the tough guy of TV news, was teary-eyed this week, choking up about Sunday’s ‘fraught’ launch of his new channel.
But if GB News succeeds, the real tears will surely be shed by his former bosses at the BBC. And they will have nobody to blame but themselves, after turning BBC News into a shrill, hectoring megaphone for Left-liberal conformity.
Even before it has broadcast a second of actual news, GB News has itself become the story.
For Neil, whose nightly show will include sections called ‘Woke watch’ and ‘Mediawatch’, it is ‘the new challenger to the established order’.
For outraged critics it is an abomination, and they have even launched a campaign to strangle the station at birth — #DontFundGBNews — demanding advertisers boycott the channel.
Andrew Neil was teary-eyed this week, choking up about Sunday’s launch of his new channel
The one sort of ‘diversity’ that the woke elitists cannot abide is diversity of opinion. Which is why everybody who believes in freedom of expression should welcome GB News, if only for the discomfort it has already caused the cancel-culture warriors.
It is precisely because the BBC has dug such a hole for itself that a gap has opened up for GB News.
The corporation has abandoned its tradition of authoritative reporting in favour of politically correct lecturing.
In the process it has lost touch with millions of viewers who, polls show, believe it has no interest in their opinions.
To compound the injustice, those viewers are still compelled to cough up for the TV licence fee.
The BBC is now widely seen as for Them, and not for Us.
Almost every BBC journalist appears to espouse a Left-liberal viewpoint on every issue: Brexit or Israel bad; the EU and Palestine good.
We pretty much know what reporters and presenters will say before they open their mouths. Little wonder millions have turned off.
BBC founder Lord Reith decreed that the Corporation’s role was to ‘educate, inform and entertain’ the public. Now it seems the BBC’s self-appointed role is more to re-educate, indoctrinate and exasperate its audience.
That is evident not just in BBC News, but from BBC dramas that come across like Public Information Films haranguing viewers about social justice, to BBC ‘comedy’ panel shows whose stars seem to think everything’s a joke as long as it is knocking the Tories.
Neil argues that GB News has a niche because ‘news debate in Britain is increasingly woke and out of touch with the majority of people.
Our national conversation has become too metropolitan, too southern, and too middle class.’ And it is hard to disagree.
BBC founder Lord Reith decreed the Corporation’s role was to ‘educate, inform and entertain’
There is indeed a yawning divide between the BBC elite and much of the British public. Its journalists have long appeared obsessed with the fantasy world of the Twittersphere rather than the one where most of us live.
Last July a senior BBC manager even admitted that top journalists had become ‘addicted’ to ‘toxic’ Twitter and that the Beeb ‘had issues’ with — in other words, ignored — ‘the rise of Euroscepticism’ and with ‘tracking the growth of concern about immigration’. A year on, what’s changed?
The BBC gives the impression of looking down on the mass of British people as an ignorant racist mob in dire need of being lectured by the likes of Gary Lineker about anything from the virtues of taking the knee to all things woke.
The double-standards and hypocrisy are breath-taking. BBC news will encourage the social media mob demanding the head of cricketers for racist and sexist jokes they tweeted as teenagers — yet employ a journalist, Tala Halawa, who has previously tweeted that ‘#Hitler was right’ and that ‘Israel is more Nazi than Hitler’. She is now under investigation by the Beeb.
Pictured: BBC journalist Tala Halawa is under investigation over this tweet from 2014
Last year, the BBC proudly announced that it would spend £100 million of licence-payers’ money on ‘increasing diversity in TV’. Yet the one sort of diversity that the BBC will not tolerate is any real diversity of voices.
That is why Andrew Neil was let go, despite being perhaps the BBC’s most accomplished political broadcaster, and the interviewer whom Boris Johnson refused to face before the general election.
Neil and his team insist that GB News will be fair, objective and subject to the same Ofcom impartiality rules as every UK broadcaster.
He dismisses the allegation that his channel will be the British version of America’s Fox News — ‘they come from a hard-Right disinformation fake news conspiracy agenda’.
That cuts no ice with the woke critics. Even the name ‘GB News’ has been condemned by those who despise Britain and the British people.
No doubt they would be more at home watching BBC Breakfast presenters giggling like teenagers about the Union Flag behind a Tory minister’s desk.
Outside Broadcasting House stands a statue of George Orwell alongside my favourite Orwell quotation: ‘If liberty means anything at all it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.’
It’s salutary to recall that Orwell based his depiction of Big Brother’s propaganda machine in his novel 1984 on Broadcasting House after working there in wartime.
BBC bosses might not want to hear it, but there almost certainly would not be a GB News launching on Sunday if they hadn’t turned BBC News into a woke version of the Ministry of Truth.