GB News, which has debuted to a chorus of snarky tweets and technical issues, might have been conceived in a lab to achieve maximum metropolitan elite social media exposure, so optimal is its combination of trolling content and risible standards.
Like Harry and Meghan’s interview with Oprah, the BBC’s coverage of the death of Prince Philip or a statue of Cecil Rhodes, the groundbreaking digital channel allows the culture warrior within to respond exactly to type. It does not aim to change your worldview and nor will it, but it does give you plenty of material to reinforce it.
Our media landscape has little room for nuance and likes to reinforce every whim with, well, more of the same. So if you have previously sampled LBC or TalkRadio, or found yourself being questioned by Nick Ferrari; if perhaps you have ever used the word “woke” in less than glowing terms, you will doubtless already have been contacted by the GB News team. There are many hours to fill and only so many talking heads to go round.
Plenty have observed that the channel has not so far tapped into a previously uncharted seam of fresh voices. Allison Pearson, Nigel Farage and Alan Sugar graced launch night. Subsequently such tabloid staples as the nation’s most baffling royal expert Lady Colin Campbell and the omnipresent Laurence Fox have warranted interrogating.
An interview so alternative it included Lady C detailing different categories of paedophile is indeed something the BBC would generally cut swiftly away from. GB News had no such qualms, allowing a clip to surface on Twitter, naturally, where it was the most shocking ever for 17 minutes.
Most of the content outside of Andrew Neil’s interviews is the televisual equivalent of a glancing social interaction that goes awry and then escalates wildly. It starts with the weather then suddenly everyone’s shouting at each other and casting aspersions about parentage and sexual preferences.
By midweek many of the nation’s most notable inexperts already seemed to have wafted past GB News’s odd black curtain backdrop to pontificate near a microphone that may or may not have been switched on. My instinct on launch night was to put my two teens in a cab to the studio with a ring light and some AirPods, as they seem able to broadcast limitless perfect HD-quality streams of consciousness direct to Instagram when a spot of GCSE maths might be more appropriate.
But technical troubles are merely money problems and Neil’s backers — scarcely a GB resident among them, as reporters have noted — have deep pockets and can surely spring for additional lighting, or consistent audio levels. And it would be cruel to count how many times the channel has fallen silent since launch; redundant anyway, since of course there is already a Twitter feed performing that service mercilessly.
These glitches are, if not by design, then certainly not out of the realms of the imagining pre-launch. No one connected with this venture, least of all Neil, who is a pro’s pro, could possibly have imagined it would look and sound slick. Rather, like an 80s Eurovision Song Contest hosted clunkily from Cyprus, the slightly shambolic nature of events is part of the allure.
In truth, the television channel isn’t the point. The natural environment of GB News is scrolled in short bursts, replayed endlessly next to someone’s hot take, running the contentious gamut from a heated debate over whether a bread roll is called a barm or a cob to Neil interviewing the chancellor. Both of these will garner attention. One will be surprisingly popular.
On Twitter, the most faithful attention is paid by those who are organising advertiser boycotts under the hashtag #StopFundingHate and already calling the channel “GBeebies” after the BBC’s pre-school offering. We can safely assume that Ofcom’s inbox is full.
A significant number of voices in my Westminster bubble list continued throughout last week to profess that, despite some issues, GB News was a brilliant, incisive and welcome addition to our news ecology. Liz Truss, Rishi Sunak and Sajid Javid have already lent the channel their presence.
Just one day after launch, BBC1 was forced to air a question from a GB News staffer resplendent with much patriotic branding in the middle of the six o’clock news because the government chose to call on him at the prime ministerial press conference. The Johnson government will support this channel, much as it does Times Radio, because it does not especially enjoy the alternatives.
This alone will make the backers happy. As a battlefield for the culture wars, the GB News set, dimly lit and muffled as it is, will do nicely.