The last time I wrote about GB News I stated that Andrew Neil was looking ‘tired and frustrated’. Well, it turns out I wasn’t wrong. Neil left GB News for good last week, having not presented his show on the channel for months, claiming that he wanted to reduce his workload.
But the real picture is much spicier. Neil has been in fraught exit talks since July, following a near breakdown over the channel’s problematic launch, fraught with technical difficulties and, crucially, editorial differences between Neil and the rest of the management team.
Neil claimed he was in a “minority of one” amongst the management regarding the channel’s editorial direction. Neil was concerned there was too much focus on so-called culture war issues and that GB News was becoming the “British Fox News” he had insisted it would not be. He was right to be concerned.
Since Neil left for his extended, and now indefinite, holiday GB News has slid steadfastly to the right. The hiring of Mark Dolan, who notoriously cut up a mask on talkRADIO along with Britain’s Trump, Nigel Farage. These appointments have provided us with a clear sign of the direction GB News intends to go in.
The loss of Neil hasn’t just left a gap at GB News. It has left a gaping, unfillable black hole. Not only has ‘Gbeebies’, as some have branded it, lost its main presenter, but it has also lost all journalistic and intellectual credibility with it. Neil didn’t just turn up an hour a day for his show, he was the chairman and played an integral role in bringing in some of the country’s best journalistic talent, including Simon McCoy, who is known to be unhappy at the channel.
In losing their cornerstone, GB News has been thoroughly destabilised and will continue to struggle. Revamped sets and fewer technical issues do not mean that fundamental issues have gone away. The lack of news bulletins, advertising boycotts and tiny audiences remain several weeks after launch, ensuring GB News’ amateurish reputation remains.
On top of that, there’s an almighty train coming down the tracks which may leave Neil relieved that he left when he did. A new channel, talkTV, starring the seemingly “uncancellable” Piers Morgan, and funded by the equally immortal Rupert Murdoch is to be launched next year. It will air programmes with “lively debate” and “agenda setting interviews”. Sound familiar?
Dan Wooton, often named ‘poundshop Piers’ will now have to compete with the man himself, an impossible task given that whether you love him or hate him, nobody can out Morgan the Morgan.
It is far worse than that though, as talkTV will have proper funding, and therefore sets which don’t look as if they’ve been freshly ripped from a student TV office or the back end of a skip. It is also worth noting talkRADIO, the new TV station’s sister has just signed up Jeremy Kyle. This is no coincidence, be prepared for fire and fury, not just from Kyle or Morgan but as we watch GB News burn.
That said, there is a glimmer of hope for GB News, Rupert Murdoch is a canny operator and would not invest in an unviable project so there must be money in punchy, opinion led news programming. GB News may just have to take time to find its niche, establish itself then watch the advertisers come rolling back to it. Nobody can know for certain, but if done well, there are viewers out there for the channel.
So, what would I do? Being CEO of GB News at the moment is probably akin to being captain of the Titanic, except that it was a shock when that ship started sinking. But there are a few lifeboats that may save the channel if someone is willing to acknowledge and work on a few key things.
The first being accepting that there are problems and don’t attack those who point them out. GB News probably gets an unfair amount of flak from people online but ranting about it on air makes the channel look unhinged.
Several presenters last week broadcast monologues about how brilliant the channel is, isn’t it better to be honest and admit you have a way to go than to appear in denial on air?
Another key improvement would be to play to your niche but don’t go too far. Yes, GB News has to be controversial and move away from a traditional news agenda, but there is a line. On Sunday, while others were reporting fuel shortages, rows raging at the Labour Party conference, and the German election results, Andrew Doyle was discussing an academic who found the term Jedi offensive. Really.
Finally, return some journalistic prowess to the channel. Andrew Neil is irreplaceable, but a collaborative effort could get GB News out of the culture war gutter and lead to the channel being taken more seriously.
This doesn’t necessarily mean hiring more presenters, the introduction of hourly news bulletins and more prominent slots for the serious journalism seen in some of the daytime shows on the channel could restore the channel’s reputation.
Then, maybe just maybe, an Andrew Neil shaped hole may begin to be filled.