Viewers in the UK have recently been given a new TV news channel, GB News, to sample. Never in my experience (and that stretches back over 70 years) has a broadcasting channel inspired quite such a brouhaha. Whether you get your news from Twitter or from “woke” newspapers like the Guardian, you will read everywhere that this channel is the most evil thing since Hitler, that it peddles “hate speech”, that it is technically incompetent, and that no one watches it anyway.
Wow! If GB News hasn’t made a lot of friends, it has certainly influenced people. What is more, it has inspired a remarkable outburst of prophecy on the self-styled left, because many of the accusations of hate speech were made before the channel had even aired for the first time! I wish I knew where these people get their psychic abilities from because I would like to have them too. Then maybe I could win the National Lottery.
On second thoughts, maybe I wouldn't have won anything using such dubious prophetic powers, because I have watched quite a lot of this new channel and haven’t seen much hate speech yet. Apart, that is, from Nigel Farage sounding off about illegal immigrants. I haven’t yet heard him say anything against foreigners who enter the country legally, which is my rough-and-ready test for a genuine xenophobe. I have a personal stake in this particular issue, as my own parents were refugees from Hitler and they didn’t break any UK laws to come here. Both of them took the view that if you want a foreign country to treat you decently, you must treat that country decently in your turn and respect its way of life. That seems to be an unpopular viewpoint nowadays.
In fact GB News is a pretty civilised place on the whole, considering its shocking reputation. It’s right of centre — that’s it’s unique selling point — but I think it would appeal more to readers of the Spectator or the Daily Telegraph than those of the Daily Mail or the Sun. Maybe that’s why the viewing figures dropped so spectacularly after the first few days. There’s not a lot here to gratify the yob element.
It’s worth pointing out that no British channel that broadcasts to air could possibly be “Fox-News-on-Thames”, however much some people on the right would like that. Broadcasting is controlled by the UK Government’s Office of Communication (generally known as OfCom), which demands a certain level of objectivity. A political viewpoint is acceptable; the BBC is not supposed to have one, because it’s financed by taxpayers via the compulsory licence fee, but it does these days have a strong left-wing slant and OfCom turns a blind eye to that. However fake news, alternative facts, conspiracy theories, overt racism or homophobia, and the browbeating or humiliation of people being interviewed, are not allowed on any channel. You can do that on the internet, but not on broadcast TV.
The regular GB News team seem like a pretty diverse lot. They’re about equally divided between men and women with a reasonable number of black faces and several gay men. Most of them are on the right politically, as you would expect, but a few are traditional working class Labour (including one former Labour MP). Their invited guests tend to be left wing, probably because it makes for more interesting discussions. Nigel Farage once had Ken Livingstone, the former mayor of London and a famous left-wing firebrand, as one of his guests and they got on brilliantly. Socially too, the team is much more diverse than the BBC tends to be, with a lot of provincial working-class accents. One point of pride for the show is that they run a lot of stories from the provinces which the regular channels prefer to broadcast only locally, not nationally.
Having said that, I think that the name of the channel is definitely misleading. It’s not really a news channel at all, although there are scrolling headlines along the bottom of the screen, and one or two presenters have taken to reading out a news bulletin on the hour because they feel the viewers expect it. But really it’s about views, not news. The programmes mainly feature discussions triggered by current news items and they are often very interesting. I haven’t yet heard anyone being shouted down.
And what about all the technical hitches? Yes, they are legion! In the first week, some of them were severe enough to take the channel off-air. But I am old enough to remember BBC TV when it was equally wet behind the ears and the glitches in those transmissions were often much worse. We all used to spend a lot of time staring at signs which said “Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible” or “Do not adjust your set. There is a fault in transmission”. This despite the fact that those transmissions were entirely studio-based (outside broadcasting came much later) whereas GB News today depends a lot on people who are not professional broadcasters zooming in from their homes using their own equipment.
But of course we were a lot less fussy in those days, because we were basically amazed that the thing could be done at all. Also I have noticed that people of all political persuasions tend to regard technical hitches with affectionate toleration whan they occur in media that they approve of. I can remember the Guardian when it was still called the Manchester Guardian and it was a very fine newspaper in those days, but so notorious for its lousy proofreading that it was (and is still) often referred to as the Grauniad! No such toleration is ever shown towards media whose political stance a person dislikes.
But if GB News provided nothing else of value, there is one programme that I would definitely recommend to anyone who is interested in civilised and wide-ranging debate. It is called Free Speech Nation and is hosted by a remarkable man called Andrew Doyle, who has been in his time an academic writer, a teacher and a stand-up comic. He's also an openly gay catholic, which is an interesting position; maybe that helped to nudge him towards becoming a comedian. The program airs on Sundays between 7.00 and 9.00 pm and I never miss it. If the channel does go belly-up, I hope that this programme at least will be rescued and continue its life on some other channel because it really would be a crying shame if it was lost.