Groups pitching to perceived desire for alternative output as trust in BBC falls
Rival efforts are under way to launch a Fox News-style opinionated current affairs TV station in Britain to counter the BBC.
One group is promising a news channel “distinctly different from the out-of-touch incumbents” and has already been awarded a licence to broadcast by the media regulator, Ofcom, under the name “GB News”. Its founder has said the BBC is a “disgrace” that “is bad for Britain on so many levels” and “needs to be broken up”.
A rival project is being devised in the headquarters of Rupert Murdoch’s British media empire by the former Fox News executive David Rhodes, although it is unclear whether it will result in a traditional TV channel or be online-only.
Both are pitching to a perceived gap in the market for opinionated video output fuelled by growing distrust of the BBC among some parts of its audience, especially on the political right over culture war issues such as Brexit and whether Rule, Britannia! should be sung at the Last Night of the Proms.
The prize is twofold: the political influence that would come with breaking the BBC and Sky’s control of British rolling news, along with the potential profits if it is possible to replicate some of the enormous audiences that tune in to watch opinionated talkshow hosts in the US, where Fox News is hugely profitable.
GB News is the work of a company called All Perspectives, controlled by two British-American executives who are associated with the US billionaire John Malone. Known as the “cable cowboy”, Malone chairs Liberty Global, the owner of Virgin Media, as well as the parent company of the Discovery television network.
Andrew Cole, one of the co-founders of GB News, also sits on the board of Liberty Global. He told the Guardian he hoped to be able to discuss the project in September, but he has previously made clear his views on the broadcasting landscape.
He told his LinkedIn followers that the BBC was “possibly the most biased propaganda machine in the world” and to “watch out for announcements of famous presenters and the launch of a completely new TV news channel for the UK – one that will be distinctly different from the out-of-touch incumbents”. He added: “The people need and want this new perspective.”
Sources with knowledge of the project suggested GB News was in discussions with Discovery about a tie-up, with the potential for an announcement in September. It has a licence in place and while this does not guarantee the channel will make it to air – or that it will be called GB News – it means Ofcom has been provided with the outline business case, distribution plans and intended audience. Discovery declined to comment.
The challenge both projects face is the UK’s strict broadcast rules on due impartiality, enforced by the media regulator. One possible route around them is to follow the lead of the radio station LBC, which has achieved record audiences by realising that the rules can be interpreted to allow strongly opinionated presenters, so long as they are balanced out elsewhere in the schedule with alternative viewpoints.
A similar model has been followed by Piers Morgan’s outbursts on ITV’s Good Morning Britain, which regularly become talking points online and drive substantial traffic to tabloid newspapers. News UK’s TalkRadio has pushed this tactic further, with regular debates on culture war hot topics rapidly turned into clips shared on social media.
Rhodes, who was hired by News UK in the spring and most recently served as president of CBS News, is said by sources at the company to have the backing of Lachlan Murdoch, the heir apparent to the business empire. He has been seen taking an interest in the TalkRadio model. A News UK spokesperson declined to comment on the suggestion that a fully fledged news channel was in the works but confirmed he was continuing to work on “video projects”.
One of the great unknowns of any such project is the role of Nigel Farage. The former Ukip leader left LBC amid staff anger over his comments on migrants crossing the Channel, but he has the potential to deliver a ready-made anti-BBC, pro-Brexit audience. He has recently appeared on the Sun’s YouTube channel and TalkRadio, both owned by News UK.
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