Who is behind GB News and what is channel’s agenda?

Veteran BBC presenter Andrew Neil is chairman of the GB News channel (PA)
Veteran BBC presenter Andrew Neil is chairman of the GB News channel (PA)

After months of heated speculation over its potential impact on British political discourse, triumphant announcements of presenters poached from rivals, and combative Twitter spats with critics via chairman Andrew Neil, GB News will finally unveil itself to the public this weekend.

The 24-hour channel, which Mr Neil and his new associates hope will rival the likes of the BBC and Sky News with a mixture of “original news, opinion and debate”, is set to hit the airwaves on Sunday at 8pm.

With branding heavy in the colours of the Union Jack and featured segments bearing names such as Wokewatch and Free Speech Nation, fears have been raised that the channel could herald the arrival of Fox News-style coverage on British shores – a comparison those behind GB News have sought to play down.

While BBC media editor and former Independent editor Amol Rajan has suggested this comparison is “limited”, he noted that GB News “is the first to be set up with an explicit political leaning”. Adam Baxter, director of standards and audience protection at the regulator Ofcom, has also described the channel as offering an “unapologetically partisan, right-of-centre take on events”.

For his part, Mr Neil has cited both Fox News and the more centrist MSNBC as American inspiration for GB News, insisting that it “will not be shouty, angry television that denies people the space to have their say” and “above all” will conform to Ofcom’s rules on bias and impartiality.

Writing for the Sunday Express in February, the veteran broadcaster said the contrast between GB News – which he described as “new challenger to the established order, a disrupter and an upstart” – will be “immediately obvious”, describing news debate in Britain as “increasingly woke and out of touch with the majority of its people”.

These are sentiments apparently shared by others behind the new channel – which came under some criticism after The Times reported that, despite its attempts to trade on patriotism, none of GB News’s main shareholders and only two of its eight directors are British and live in Britain.

One of the channel’s co-founders, Andrew Cole, who sits on the board of Liberty Global, was reported by The Guardian last August as telling his LinkedIn followers that the BBC was “possibly the most biased propaganda machine in the world” as he touted the arrival of a “completely new TV news channel for the UK – one that will be distinctly different from the out-of-touch incumbents”.

Mr Cole is reported to have met with fellow Anglo-American media executive and Liberty associate, Mark Schneider, in June 2018 to discuss a rival channel, with the pair then going on to approach Mr Neil – who was then presenter of the BBC’s now-defunct Daily Politics show, having earlier in his career edited The Sunday Times and helped Rupert Murdoch launch Sky News.

They are joined by former Sky News executive editor John McAndrew – who will act as director of news and programming – and ex-Sky News Australia chief executive Angelos Frangopoulos as CEO.

In a letter rebutting a Guardian column which described GB News as an “anti-impartiality news” channel, Mr Frangopoulos in February spoke of “adding plurality to UK media” and of aiming “to serve British communities who feel poorly represented by mainstream television media, especially outside London”.

He added that the company is “committed to impartial journalism” and is looking for a “range of voices and perspectives”.

Already among the 120 journalists which GB News plans to hire are former Sun executive editor Dan Wootton, former Sky Sports presenter Kirsty Gallacher, Scottish archaeologist Neil Oliver, ex-BBC anchor Simon McCoy, veteran ITV journalist Alastair Stewart, former Brexit Party MEP Alex Phillips and Tom Harwood, formerly of Guido Fawkes.

Mr Neil, who four nights a week will host an hour-long flagship show at 8pm, described a desire to have “anchors with a bit of edge, a bit of attitude, bit of personality – and people will make an appointment to view them”.

Programming is set to kick off at 8pm on Sunday with a special Welcome to GB News show, and will be available on Sky on channel 515, Freeview channel 236 and Virgin Media channel 626.

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