It is often stated that most people have a minimal interest in politics. Apart from voting every year and occasionally watching the News at Ten, current affairs is regarded as a hobby for a selective few.
This couldn’t be more wrong. While sales of newspapers continue to decline, the consumption of news, regardless of age, appears to have never been stronger. In the UK especially, the EU referendum allowed everyone, regardless of wealth or knowledge, to contribute on Britain’s future. Direct democracy was put against representative democracy.
In America, the presidency of Donald Trump has garnered perhaps more attention than any other. Making George W. Bush Jr look like a distinguished statesman, his tweets and unconventional style of governing have ensured daily political attention and social engagement.
There are more platforms than ever to access news. In a capitalist society, private companies will generate what they believe consumers – the general public – want. Using that logic, it’s clear interest in news couldn’t be higher. Numerous political YouTube channels, each containing many long form interviews. New radio stations, established radio stations making themselves into YouTube channels, 24 hour news channels remaining strong.
It is, on the surface, logical then to see why GB News will be launched next year. Approved by Ofcom, the channel will be ‘anchor-led’, discussing current affairs and driving conversation. The channel’s chairman is Andrew Neil, previously editor of the Sunday Times who helped to launch Sky News and worked at the BBC for over two decades. If anyone has news experience, it’s him.
Indeed, Sky News was the pioneer of 24 news. It was a radical notion – the idea you could never run out of time. There would always be a chance to cover every issue. The news didn’t have to fit within half an hour. In reality of course, the situation is far different. Trying to cover numerous stories every hour inevitably means some issues are placed to one side. Editorial decisions and financial budgets may mean certain stories don’t receive the attention and time they deserve.
However, it is tricky to see where there is space for a new platform. Like I have already stated, there are just so many ways to access news. From podcasts to long form YouTube interviews, radio stations to social media, the means to gain information about what is happening is excessive. Indeed, the growth of platforms like Instagram and TikTok have provided new ways for news to spread.
The focus, in my mind, of GB News will be its anchor-led coverage. That’s where it will significantly differ from Sky and the BBC. While they have friendly, informative presenters throughout the day, news comes first. This new channel, as Andrew Neil himself has admitted, will mirror American news channels, focusing on presenters with strong personalities.
That doesn’t mean it will be like the American polarisation of Fox News or CNN. That Ofcom have approved the channel demonstrates it won’t be a right-wing echo chamber. To me, news and current affairs has always justified the BBC’s continuation. If the corporation is funded by everyone, it must serve everyone. Striving towards impartiality, even if it fails to meet it, is a better ideal that simply promoting one political ideology.
It’s possible that GB News could mirror LBC and talkRADIO. Both approved by Ofcom, they’ve maintained impartiality across their schedules. While every presenter, from James O’Brien to Julia Hartley-Brewer, has opinionated takes on the day’s events, they are balanced by someone else on the schedule who thinks entirely differently.
Of course, that impartiality works on the assumption that listeners tune into every programme or also watches the BBC and Sky alongside the presenter driven programmes. That might not be the case. Just as everyone has their favourite music tastes, so people have presenters and personalities they prefer.
What can GB News do to improve the quality and intelligence of news coverage within the UK? Attempt to contribute in an intelligent, coherent manner. Make people go outside of their echo chambers and think differently about matters under discussion. Consult a range of guests, opinion formers and, yes, experts, to ensure the public are equipped to make decisions on the day’s events. Intelligence over rhetoric, nuance over orthodoxy.
I wish GB News the best of luck. Competition for news and current affairs isn’t a bad thing. Attracting new viewers, getting them to change the schedules they are used to, is no easy task and requires perseverance and energy. As Times Radio have found, gathering an audience, not least in a pandemic, requires widespread promotion. If the channel manages to make people think differently about the news in new ways, it will have served a purpose. Become a dull echo chamber? Nobody benefits.