7 February 2021

Weekly Briefing: ‘Don’t Fund GB News’ shows the censorious left at its very worst

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Welcome to the pre-cancellation era.

Not content with clamping down on anything deemed beyond a very specific pale, the footsoldiers of the online left are now targeting a TV channel before it has even launched. The object of their ire is GB News, whose prospectus promises less news, more views and programming more in tune with the public’s concerns than the London-centric BBC.

To some that means the arrival of a ‘British Fox News’, destined to pollute the airwaves with rabidly partisan disinformation. To prevent this fearful prospect, campaign group Stop Funding Hate has launched a social media campaign urging mobile phone companies not to advertise on the channel.

It would be hard to find a purer distillation of the paranoid censoriousness of a small but hyperactive section of the contemporary left, whose brand of virulent gesture politics manages to be both sinister and pathetic.

In an ideal world the rest of us would happily ignore these nincompoops. Unfortunately, it only takes one spooked corporate executive to pull the plug before others take fright and follow suit, with potentially serious commercial consequences. As the saying goes, do not underestimate the power of a small number of Twitter zealots to change the world.

Never mind that their central claim about hyper-partisan American-style TV landing on these shores falls apart under a moment’s scrutiny.

For starters, GB News will be subject to the same Ofcom impartiality rules as other broadcasters, so it couldn’t trot out wall-to-wall rightwingery even if it wanted to. More to the point, a channel that only serves only one side of the political spectrum would have pretty limited commercial appeal.

The idea of ‘British Fox’ also rests on a misguided equivalence between America and the UK, as if you can just drop the product of an entirely different political culture on these shores and watch it grow wings. It’s the same glib, lazy equivalence that gave rise to endless thinkpieces about how Boris Johnson was a British version of Donald Trump, despite the manifest differences between the two men.

Rather than Fox News or its liberal counterpart MSNBC, I’d guess GB News will most closely resemble a TV version of LBC or Talk Radio – quite different to BBC News, certainly, but hardly a radical departure from what we already have. Andrew Neil’s flagship show will certainly be worth watching, whatever one’s political views. The Scot may be a man of the right, but he won his reputation as an interviewing pitbull by giving all of his guests a hard time, regardless of their affiliation.

It will also be interesting to see how GB News fares in trying to cater for a broader section of the British public. It’s undeniable that London dominates the media industry and that mainstream news output is distorted accordingly, as even the BBC’s own executives have readily admitted. A channel that focuses more heavily on the regions could be a welcome corrective, though one should not underestimate the difficulty of that task in a world where much of local newsgathering has withered away.

Still, let’s at least give them the chance to try something new before being pilloried. And if online leftwingers don’t like the product, they can always do the truly radical thing and not tune in.

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John Ashmore is Editor of CapX.