GB News is going from strength to strength – and the media elite is terrified

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak taking part in the GB News People's Forum on February 12, 2024
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak taking part in the GB News People's Forum on February 12, 2024 - Reuters

The sheer effrontery of it is astounding. One of the Grand Old Men of British journalism sits in a BBC studio and condemns and patronises an upstart broadcaster of which he disapproves. In what has become a favourite tune of the establishment media Andrew Neil this week appeared on Today to unleash a broadside against GB News – the station he helped set up three years ago. In the studio it was all very matey, everyone on first-name terms; it was Andrew this and Andrew that as Mishal Husain allowed Mr Neil a free hand to vent his spleen. It was a most revealing interview but not, I think, in quite the way the BBC and Neil intended.

You have to wonder why the hatred of GB News by the others is so pungent. Is it because they are losing audience share to a competitor? A reasonable suggestion because GBN is increasing its audience by leaps and bounds. As the UK Press Gazette reported last month: “Year-on-year, relative newcomer GB News, which launched a dotcom url last year, saw the fastest growth in the top 50. Audience to the newsbrand was up 167 per cent compared to February 2023 at 9 million people.”

But, apparently, it is not the fact that GB News is now ranked at 21st in the list of top UK news brands with an astonishing year-on-year growth of 3,515 per cent, that worries Mr Neil. He adapted the station’s claim that “Britain is listening” by saying that it was “only a wee, wee bit of Britain” that listens and watches. Perish the thought that his ire was sparked by a vigorous young competitor eating his lunch. What really gets Mr Neil’s goat is that some GB News programmes are fronted by serving Tory MPs. It’s the principle of the thing you see.

Andrew Neil presenting the first night of GB News, June 2020
Andrew Neil presenting the first night of GB News, June 2020

And, putting MPs behind the mic is a break with British broadcasting tradition which – as everyone knows – is all about maintaining pristine “impartiality”. Yet the whole notion of media impartiality is phony; it is a Big Lie constantly repeated to browbeat us into submission. The BBC – and the rest of the media – is no more “impartial” than GB News. It’s just that their preferences and prejudices are rather different.

The interview with Andrew Neil was prompted by the announcement by the media regulator Ofcom that it was to investigate GB News for a breach of the rules involving a programme where Rishi Sunak took questions from the public. Ofcom said the programme, called The People’s Forum, broke its rules because the Prime Minister’s responses went unchallenged. Portentously, the Ofcom statement said: “Given this represents a serious and repeated breach of these rules, we are now starting the process for consideration of a statutory sanction against GB News.”

This could spell the end for GB News, as Ofcom has the power to strip it of its licence to broadcast. I rather doubt they’ll go that far. It wouldn’t be a good look either for Ofcom or British democracy generally, to be closing down a broadcaster merely because it offends elite opinion – especially not as a general election looms. Perhaps there’ll be a fine or perhaps GB News will be ordered to conform more closely to how the BBC and the others do it. Which would be a recipe for more bland, middle-of-the-road, “consensus broadcasting”. That would be a pity; the experiment of using MPs and other politically engaged people like Nigel Farage as presenters has, to my mind, been a resounding success.

Jacob Rees-Mogg reporting for GB News from Parliament Square, March 2024
Jacob Rees-Mogg reporting for GB News from Parliament Square, March 2024 - Paul Grover

Jacob Rees-Mogg, for instance, has shown himself to be a fiercely intelligent and quite brilliant interrogator and someone whose understanding of politics and deep historical knowledge makes his programme one of the consistently best things around. It would clearly be better if GB News had some Labour MPs to balance the books but, as the station’s boss Angelos Frangopoulos, has said: “We have been trying very hard to encourage members of other parties to come on board and present programmes. We would love to have a wide range of MPs on our channel in the same way that stations like LBC do… It’s an ongoing conversation, but it’s purely because we’ve yet to find someone to say yes.”

I wonder why? MPs are not generally shy of getting their voices heard. I suspect it’s because GBN has become a dirty word on the Left – and in elite circles more generally. And the reason for that is simple: GB News is the only broadcaster where you will hear full-throated challenge to some of today’s mad orthodoxies, like climate change. I have heard, and admired, debates on GBN which have robustly questioned the UK’s Net Zero policies.

To some of us, it’s beginning to look as though this piece of eco-zealotry might prove hugely damaging to national prosperity. But you will not be hearing that kind of debate on Today anytime soon. The BBC, the High Priest of the Church of Climate Change, censors heretics. A political naif might expect Ofcom to be interested in that kind of failure of “impartiality” too – but that would be to misunderstand the regulator, which is a central pillar of the media establishment alongside the BBC.

Angelos Frangopoulos, CEO of GB News
Angelos Frangopoulos, CEO of GB News - JULIAN SIMMONDS

It was fascinating to hear Mr Neil justifying his criticisms of GB News whilst also attacking Ofcom itself. The decision to focus on the Rishi Sunak Q&A programme was, Neil intoned, like prosecuting Al Capone for tax evasion (a slur he’d copied from Michael Crick who had appeared on Rees Mogg’s programme the night before lambasting GBN as a “Right-wing propaganda channel”). In other words, GB News’ sins were much greater in other areas.

One had to wonder how much of Mr Neil’s odium arose because of his connection with GB News as originally conceived. He was its first chairman and its star presenter at its launch in June 2021. But the relationship quickly soured and Neil departed whilst GB News set about finding its own voice. Frangopoulos says its mission is to be a “disruptor “ of the UK media scene and that, of course, is why it is so resented.

But Mr Neil said that he was all in favour of disruptors – just not, apparently, of GB News’ ilk. He much preferred the Sky News model – which, he boasted, he had been instrumental in setting up. Yet Sky has turned out be be a “disruptor” in the same way as Tweedledum is to Tweedledee. Its output is now, in terms of content and underlying world-view, indistinguishable from the BBC.

George Orwell’s timeless parable Animal Farm comes to mind where the revolutionaries shape-change over time into exact replicas of their original oppressors. Andrew Neil, by-the-by, has just announced he’s off to join Times Radio – another “disruptor” following pretty much the same agenda as the BBC, but one growing more slowly than GBN.

GB News is not perfect. Some of its coverage is shouty and sometimes downright ignorant. But its saving grace is that it represents something new, a departure from an old, stale, media consensus that censors proper debate about important topics.

Up to now, Ofcom has resisted calls from people like Neil to hobble the newcomer with regulatory burdens that would make it sound and look like all the others. For anyone who cares about free speech and free debate in a free country it must be hoped Ofcom holds its nerve and allows GB News to prosper.