When it was first announced, GB News was fêted as a British Fox News, a populist cove where the Brexit-voting 52 percent could stretch out and relax to the comforting sound of puce-faced men shouting a barrage of angry opinions that their viewers already agreed with.
However, when GB News finally launched, nearly two weeks ago, it soon discovered that it had accidentally attracted a completely different demographic. Due to a seemingly never-ending cascade of watch-through-your-fingers technical mishaps, the channel briefly became the No. 1 destination for slack-jawed rubberneckers everywhere.
Just 13 days in, everyone already has their top GB News screwup. The opening broadcast had the look and feel of an especially slapdash hostage video. The sets were so badly underlit that anchors were forced to wear brightly colored outfits just to be seen. The advertisers pulled out in droves. The news ticker was written so carelessly that it once managed to refer to the outlet as “GN News.” Or, my favorite, the moment a show came back from commercials early and caught its anchor slumped in his chair with his head in his hands, apparently despairing for his career.
GB News was always going to be a risk. It positioned itself as a less metropolitan counterpoint to the BBC, even though the BBC was said to be the world’s most trustworthy news service in a Reuters Institute report from 2019. It’s a cable-news channel, launched in a television era defined by people canceling their cable subscriptions. Worst of all, it lauds itself as a partisan news source in a country with incredibly stringent impartiality rules.
Just 13 days in, everyone already has their top GB News screwup.
Still, GB News had at least found the right man for the job in its chairman, Andrew Neil. A political interviewer of fearsome repute, Neil not only understands the Murdoch model better than most, having edited The Sunday Times for a decade and launching Murdoch’s Sky News in the 1980s, but he also—thanks to the cancellation of his BBC show last year—has something of an ax to grind.
Straight away, Neil made a point of aiming GB News right at the place where it would get the most traction: the culture wars. There would be a segment called “Woke Watch” and a show called Free Speech Nation, he promised. He sourced anchors from The Sun and the Brexit party. There wouldn’t be any rolling news bulletins, either. Instead, it would concentrate on the sort of witless rants that elderly relatives like to share on Facebook. So GB News might not be the place to go if there’s a disaster, but it’s definitely worth checking out if you like being repeatedly told that Enid Blyton—the best-selling 19th- and 20th-century British children’s-book author with a complicated legacy—wasn’t quite as xenophobic as everyone says she was.
And this approach is fine, so long as it is executed properly. However, it quickly became apparent that this was not going to be the case at all. By all accounts, GB News looks to be held together with nothing but spit and string. Graphics routinely fail to appear on-screen at the proper time, cameras cut away to nothing, and chyrons misspell the names of interviewees.
The anchors, too, seem staggeringly underprepared. At one point someone claimed that Enid Blyton had written The Magnificent Seven, while, at another, someone quizzed a computer-virus specialist on the coronavirus. One afternoon a host, perhaps not realizing that she was on-air, flipped the bird at a colleague.
The worst hit of all, however, seems to be Simon McCoy. A beloved host during his 17-year stint on BBC News, he now finds himself on GB News presenting something called “Good News,” which partly consists of showing dog pictures submitted by viewers. Except, as you have already guessed, the photos sometimes don’t show up on-screen, leading to a now viral clip of a respected newsman haplessly trying to describe a picture of a Jackapoo.
When pranksters started phoning in with names like “Mike Oxlong” and “Mike Hunt,” it fell to McCoy to chastise them like an exhausted teacher. That anchor I mentioned who was caught with his head in his hands? Also McCoy. There are times during his show when you can literally see the terror in his eyes. Did he really leave the BBC for this?
Graphics routinely fail to appear on-screen at the proper time, cameras cut away to nothing, and chyrons misspell the names of interviewees.
These mishaps are all being written off as early kinks that will soon be ironed out as everyone gains confidence. Which now might not happen for a while, since on Thursday—a week and a bit after the launch—Neil declared on-air that he was knocking off for the summer. More pressing, however, is the reaction from advertisers. Soon after the launch, companies such as Nivea, Ikea, Grolsch, Bosch, Octopus Energy, and Vodafone had pulled their ads from the channel (or at least paused them), some citing a misalignment of values.
This in turn led to Neil, red-faced and echoey in a studio seemingly designed to resemble a dictator’s bunker, to call out the companies on-air. “Woke nonsense has reached the boardroom!” he blustered, before darkly warning the offending brands that “we can muster millions of supporters on social media. Not a good idea to be on the wrong end of them.” It’s worth pointing out that, at time of writing, Neil’s screed is the most viewed clip on the GB News YouTube page. It cannot possibly be a good sign when a channel’s biggest story is its own existence.
Stuart Heritage is a Kent, U.K.–based Writer at Large for AIR MAIL