The news that Andrew Neil is giving up his role as chairman and lead presenter of GB News has, predictably, led some commentators to prophesy the imminent demise of the fledgling TV station. And there is an unmistakeable whiff of schadenfreude in the air: many influential people in the media and politics would like to see nothing better than GBN fail, because a successful Right-leaning channel is the very last thing they want. After all, its very raison d’être is to disrupt the cosy Left-liberal club that is the British media; GBN had enemies aplenty before it broadcast a single programme.
It’s worth remembering that in the first days of its existence, the organisation Stop Funding Hate tried to organise an advertising boycott of the channel to starve it of revenue. To their everlasting shame, some large corporate names announced that they were complying with SFH’s intolerant and anti-democratic demands – though some rowed back from this cowardice when Neil publicly challenged them. That episode was solid evidence that GB News was confronting entrenched hostility from a Left that views it as an intolerable affront.
The launch of the new channel, too, was pretty disastrous. After decades of exposure to highly professional television programmes, British viewers have a low tolerance for on-screen amateurism. The occasional foul-up with lighting and sound was to be expected, but the repeated, chaotic and distracting “technical problems” that bedevilled the station’s first few weeks attracted the worst sort of publicity. If, as is reported, Neil had argued for a delay in launching GB News, to give the new team time to learn their jobs, he was absolutely right.
But there is a serious question mark over his other, publicly expressed, ambitions for the new station. Neil said on a number of occasions that GBN was not going to be a British Fox News. That always struck me as a decidedly odd stance. Why wouldn’t you – as the chairman of a new TV station seeking out an audience fed up with being patronised and lied to by Left-wing broadcasters – want to emulate one of the few broadcast operations in the Western world which is instinctively sympathetic to the Right? And which, moreover, has been highly successful both in broadcasting and financial terms? That would have been a perfectly legitimate ambition, not to mention an intelligible one.
It is worth recalling just why Fox News has succeeded. Up until 1996, when Fox launched, the US television-news market was dominated by a handful of well-established networks. There was ABC, NBC, CBC and CNN – and, politically, you couldn’t put a cigarette paper between them. They all subscribed to the same liberal-Left view of the world, being painfully “politically correct” – that insidious forerunner of “woke” that shares the same ambition, to hobble language, and thus thought itself, so that certain truths cannot be spoken.