Anti-woke ‘alternative BBC’ is launched

Andrew Neil: GB News is the first new British news network in 24 years © GB News

Does Britain need a rival to the BBC? Last night saw the launch of GB News, a TV channel aiming to provide a populist voice countering the metropolitan media. But not everyone is convinced.

Last night at 8pm, a familiar face returned to British television. The dulcet tones of journalist and political interviewer Andrew Neil purred out across the country as he introduced his take on the week’s events.

But something had changed. The red and white graphics of the BBC – Neil’s home for 25 years – had been replaced by navy blue.

This was the first broadcast of GB News, a new channel that hopes to make its mark in the country’s TV landscape.

Alongside Neil, it features an eclectic line-up. Many are experienced TV news journalists, including Simon McCoy, Colin Brazier and Alistair Stewart. But there are also pundits from other spheres, such as archaeologist Neil Oliver and sports presenter Kristy Gallagher.

Neil wants GB News to appeal to people who “may be a bit unhappy with the existing channels.” It will be populist. It will be opinionated, like a late-night conversation in a pub. And it will support the “provincial voice” over London insiders.

The channel’s existence has already raised eyebrows. The Guardian’s Anushka Asthana says: “Some fear this is going to be Britain’s answer to Fox News, feeding the so-called culture wars in search of an audience.”

GB News's founders, however, hope it will be more like talk radio or a tabloid newspaper: an unpretentious, unstuffy place that represents the views of ordinary people. Unlike Fox, it does not define itself as right-wing. One presenter, Gloria de Piero, is a former Labour MP.

Regardless of its positioning, one thing is clear. GB News is a broadside against the pre-existing British news media, especially the BBC.

The BBC is like a colossus in British television news. A poll last April found 75% of respondents watch BBC One’s news coverage. Another survey last May saw 62% of adults choose BBC as the news source they trust, over 8% for Sky News and 5% for ITV.

According to its charter, the BBC is required to be impartial. Voices from one side of an argument must be countered with opinions from the other. This gives the BBC’s news a level of objectivity that other news sources lack.

It also places it at the centre of the national debate. As writer Martin Fletcher says: “The BBC is a unifying force, a counter to the present-day tsunami of misinformation.”

Not everyone agrees. The BBC has been accused of bias from all corners. Right-wingers claim it spreads an out-of-touch liberal agenda while hoovering up public money. GB News anchor Dan Wootton summarises: “The BBC is staffed… by Guardian-reading, quinoa munching lefties who despise what you and me stand for.”

But some on the other side allege that it fails to take major progressive politicians like Jeremy Corbyn seriously, all the while giving marginal right-wing politicians like Nigel Farage a big platform.

Does Britain need a rival to the BBC?

Public service

Yes, say some. The BBC’s pioneering director-general Lord Reith conceived it as a high-minded educational endeavour. This might have worked in the 1930s when television was only watched by a wealthy handful who reflected these values. But today’s wider, more varied viewers deserve other options that better represent their own perceptions of the word. GB News could provide just that.

No, say others. The BBC is one of Britain’s great cultural assets, an institution respected across the world. It makes some mistakes, but in general, it provides an excellent service. Its impartiality is the antidote to overheated opinion, fake news and misinformation. It can get much closer to the truth than more biased news sources. We should never take this for granted.

You Decide

  1. If you were a news reporter, would you rather work for BBC or GB News?
  2. Can a news channel ever be truly impartial?

Activities

  1. You are producing a news discussion TV programme. In pairs, cast a presenter and four panellists, drawing on famous names from history. Write a show bio for each, explaining their expertise and perspective.
  2. In groups, script a three-minute news report covering an underreported issue. Perform your segment to the class.

Some People Say...

“A free press can be good or bad, but, most certainly without freedom, the press will never be anything but bad.”

Albert Camus (1913 — 1960), French philosopher and novelist

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
The BBC has attracted consistent criticism since the early 1980s, when conservatives accused the “Bolshevik Broadcasting Corporation” of lacking patriotism during the Falklands War. Since then, the BBC has been subject to complaints from numerous groups. It has been been called institutionally racist, homophobic and transphobic, as well as too politically correct, liberal and London-centric. Rival broadcasters have complained about the TV license, which they believe gives it an unfair advantage.
What do we not know?
The topic of BBC bias remains hotly contested, in part because bias is hard to measure. One 2013 Cardiff University study found that right-wing opinions received more airtime than left-wing ones. A Centre for Policy Studies paper from the same year detected a bias in the other direction. While there have been some high-profile cases where individual journalists have been found to break impartiality, most cases are cleared: a 2018 Ofcom report dismissed all 69 complaints of bias it assessed.

Word Watch

Dulcet
Sweet or soothing, especially when applied to a voice. It is often used ironically.
Provincial
Concerning the regions of a country outside the capital, often used to mean narrow-minded or unsophisticated.
Fox News
An American news channel with a hard-right agenda. It has been described as biased, sensationalist and inaccurate.
Culture wars
A cultural conflict between groups in a society.
Talk radio
A type of radio station that focuses on discussion, often taking phone-in calls from the public.
Broadside
A stinging verbal attack.
Colossus
A statue that is much larger than the thing it represents.
Charter
A written grant by a ruler or government that establishes and defines the rules of a place or institution.
Objectivity
Freedom from bias, as opposed to subjectivity.
Tsunami
A Japanese word describing a succession of waves caused when an earthquake or volcano displaces a large body of water.
Quinoa munching
A common right-wing stereotype in Britain holds that left-wing people favour eating quinoa, a South American grain, over more traditional British foods.

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