Andrew Neil didn’t want GB News to be ‘outlet for bizarre conspiracy theories’ at ‘nutty end of politics’

Former GB News presenter Andrew Neil has claimed he rapidly quit the fledgling broadcaster because he saw it becoming “an outlet for bizarre conspiracy theories” at “the nutty end of politics”.

The veteran journalist, who left GB News within weeks of it going on air in 2021, told the House of Lords on Tuesday that he was surprised the channel “has survived as long” as it has – and said he found it “very hard to see how it can ever be profitable or even break even”.

And the 74-year-old urged regulator Ofcom “to find a backbone – and quick” on the issue of GB News choosing to have sitting Conservative MPs presenting politics programmes, and interviewing members of their own party.

Andrew Neil prepares to broadcast from a studio during the launch event for GB News (PA)

Ofcom found last month that five GB News programmes – presented by sitting Tory MPs Esther McVey, Jacob Rees-Mogg, and Philip Davies – broke broadcasting rules around due impartiality. Laurence Fox was also found to have broken broadcasting rules that protect “viewers from offensive content”.

The regulator has warned that further breaches by GB News could result in a statutory sanction, which ranges from a direction not to reuse rule-breaking content, to revoking a broadcaster’s licence.

“I’m surprised how tolerant Ofcom has been of GB News,” Mr Neil, who chairs the Spectator magazine, told the Lords communications and digital committee on Tuesday.

Despite claiming that the “rest of the broadcast universe is on the centre, centre-left” and suggesting regulators may have given “GB News a bit more leeway to try and settle down” as a result, Mr Neil added: “I’m surprised any regulator would allow politicians sitting in the Houses of Parliament to present political TV programmes.

“If I’d stayed as chairman it would never have happened because I would not have had any politician present a television show in the first place, and I would certainly never have allowed politicians to interview other politicians from the same party.

Founding chairman of GB News Andrew Neil has said media regulator Ofcom needs to ‘grow a backbone and quick’ (Jonathan Brady/PA)

“I just find that incredible, and I think on these areas Ofcom needs to find a backbone – and quick.”

Meanwhile, GB News announced its first major round of redundancy cuts last week, after its operating accounts for the year to May 2023 showed an operating loss of £42.4m, according to Press Gazette.

Mr Neil was the channel’s main star when it first went to air. But the Sunday Times and BBC veteran lasted just days before he announced he would be taking a break from his show, as the nascent channel found itself plagued by production issues such as poor lighting and out-of-sync audio.

Telling peers that his eight-day stint at GB News “felt like eight years at the time”, Mr Neil added that if he had his way in the creation of GB News, “it would not have looked as if it was coming from the nuclear bunker of the president of North Korea, it would have been modern, high-quality production values”.

“What I didn’t want it [GB News] to become – I could see it was happening, which was why I left almost immediately – was an outlet for bizarre conspiracy theories, or anti-vaxxers, or basically the nutty end of politics,” said Mr Neil.

Noting that Fox News caters well to the “bigger market for that” in America, he continued: “There’s no market for that in Britain, beyond a hardcore of nutters.”

GB News hires several sitting MPs to present shows (PA)

He added: “I’m quite surprised GB News has survived as long as it is, and I’m even more surprised it saw off TalkTV. I actually thought TalkTV might do real damage to GB News, because it did have better production values and it wasn’t so conspiracy theory. It did lean to the right, but it had a variety of opinions and they weren’t all to the right.

“To my surprise, GB News has found a niche for itself, but it’s not a very big niche, and it’s not a niche that can ever be profitable.”

Noting that “the original business model was to break even by year three”, Mr Neil said: “I think I’m fairly safe in saying that won’t happen.

“So if there’s a bunch of people who want to carry on financing it because they like the ideology, that’s up to them, but I find it very hard to see how it can ever be profitable or even break even.”

A spokesperson for the broadcaster said: “GB News does not comment on former staff”.


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