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The good news
or the bad news?

Illustrations by Michelle Thompson

It’s the biggest news channel to arrive in Britain since Rupert Murdoch’s Sky TV in 1989. But while the pandemic has delayed the launch of GB News, it’s already causing controversy: to the extent that its detractors are trying to stop it before it’s even started. Samuel Fishwick investigates

I like big challenges,’ says Andrew Neil, the Scottish broadcaster hired as GB News’s chairman and top presenter last September. That’s lucky because there are plenty. Critics have been quick to slam the upstart TV station as a ‘British Fox News’, which is nonsense, says Neil. Yes, there will be sections entitled ‘Wokewatch’ and ‘Mediawatch’ but this won’t be ‘shouty, angry telly’.

It will have to conform to Ofcom impartiality rules, for a start, having secured a licence to air in 96 per cent of UK homes on all major platforms: Freeview, Sky, Virgin Media, YouView and Freesat. ‘I don’t think there’s a market for that kind of hard-right stuff in this country,’ he says, sitting in his home study at a vast desk beneath a glittering gallery of Spectator magazine covers (he has been chairman of its parent group, Press Holdings, since 2008).

Neil, 71, is a big asset to the operation. He’s a veteran even The New York Times respectfully calls an ‘equal-
opportunities interrogator’, an inquisitor so forensic that Boris Johnson ducked him altogether before the most recent election (an unfortunate Jeremy Corbyn was skewered). He was also Sky TV’s founding chairman back in the late Eighties, so his involvement kicked things into motion for GB News after a faltering start.

When the rumour mill started turning last summer, it was just whispers of TalkRadio shock jock hires and the occasional splash that they were struggling to raise cash (it still hasn’t signed a lease on its Paddington office).


Instead, the smart money was on an as-yet-untitled rival conservative video news service from Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, led by the former CBS and Fox News executive David Rhodes

Founding principles: from left, GB News team members Dan Wootton, Michelle Dewberry and Inaya Folarin Iman

“Brexit’s over, it’s done. If a number of our presenters were on the Brexit side of the argument, so what?”

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“If it does come off too like Fox News, it’s not going to work with a British audience because they’re
not that extreme”

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“I want people getting their news based on objective facts rather than people peddling the facts that they like to hear”

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