Rupert Murdoch’s forthcoming opinionated television news channel will be called News UK TV, with media regulator Ofcom giving the go-ahead for the outlet to start broadcasting as soon as it is ready.
News UK TV is racing against the rival Andrew Neil-backed channel GB News to be first on air, with both groups aiming to launch next spring. Despite concerns about the impact of Fox News-style broadcasting, both outlets believe there is a gap in the market for right-leaning television news channels aimed at Britons who dislike the BBC’s output.
Although News UK TV’s presenting line-up has yet to be announced, staff have been told to expect big-name hires. Previous names linked to the project include The Apprentice host Lord Sugar and Good Morning Britain’s Piers Morgan, who has been seen in News UK’s London Bridge headquarters, where a studio is currently being built.
The current plan, according to individuals involved in the station, is for News UK TV to be an evening-only service, which will be on air for around four or five hours a night. The proposed line-up will start with an early-evening politics show, a daily political debate programme and an evening news bulletin.
The focus of the output will be a flagship resource-heavy evening programme with a big-name host, which sources said until recently had the working title of Gotcha!, echoing an infamous Sun front page from the Falklands War. However, this has now been renamed as The Smart Cast.
News UK TV, overseen by former Fox News and CBS News boss David Rhodes, is likely to be free-to-air and the company wants it to be primarily delivered online as a streaming service. However, it applied for a full Ofcom broadcast licence, meaning it is likely to also be available as a traditional television channel in some form.
The approach is markedly different from GB News, which is understood to have already secured slots on major distribution platforms such as Freeview. The channel is backed by US media giant Discovery and is looking to create a much more ambitious 24-hour news channel with its own team of reporters across the country. It is currently due to launch early next year under the leadership of former Sky News Australia boss Angelos Frangopoulos, having lured Andrew Neil from the BBC.
Despite industry speculation that GB News could be struggling to raise the roughly £50m it needs to get the project off the ground, the company is understood to be confident of raising the money and will advertise around 100 journalism roles across the UK before the end of the year.
Rather than focus on rolling news it says it will provide news for the “vast number of British people who feel under-served and unheard”. In a bid to differentiate itself, the channel is expected to report politics stories from around the country rather than rely on a Westminster base.
Both channels, which declined to comment on their plans, will be bound by the Ofcom rules on due impartiality as result of their broadcast licences. Contrary to common belief this does not mean they have to give equal airtime to both sides of a political debate, merely that they have to ensure audiences are exposed to different views.
One individual with knowledge of News UK’s inner-workings said management would be acutely aware of how the new channel’s output would impact on Murdoch’s wider global media empire, saying: “You can have as many crap left-of-centre media outlets as you like but if you go centre-right then you get bad publicity because most journalists are lefties.”
Murdoch’s media empire – now much reduced in size following his sale of Sky to Comcast and 21st Century Fox to Disney – recently failed in its bid to buy the book publisher Simon & Schuster, meaning it is likely to be on the look-out for alternative investments and acquisitions. The 89-year-old has spent most of the year in Oxfordshire with his wife, Jerry Hall, during which time he has dealt with the formal departure of his son James from the family business.
According to a Westminster source, this summer the Brexit party leader, Nigel Farage, was overheard in a central London restaurant discussing conversations with Murdoch about the future of journalism, with the media mogul said to be increasingly excited about the prospect of opinionated video output rather than radio, despite his company’s recent investment in Times Radio.
Farage, who has recently started publishing his own video news commentary on Twitter, did not respond to a request for comment.