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The problem with GB News is that it just isn’t very good


During Monday evening’s “Woke Watch” on Britain’s newest broadcaster, GB News, presenter Colin Brazier railed about how a primary school had temporarily deleted its Twitter account after some negative responses to a video it had made to encourage England’s football squad.

“These were not hooligans . . . but exuberant kids enjoying a lesson in music video production,” sighed Brazier. “It’s a reminder to those in positions of authority in public life . . . that they shouldn’t be cowed by a tiny handful of po-faced types. A couple of angry tweets do not a Twitterstorm make.”

Given that there were just a couple of tweets it seemed an odd story to use for this segment in which presenters highlight supposedly egregious examples of morality policing and overzealous social activism. Even odder was that GB News then contradicted Brazier, promoting his rant by describing a “Twitterstorm” in reaction to the school video.

Like much of the content I’ve seen on GB News, it seemed that the channel was presenting a straw man. There was no Twitterstorm, no social media mob and no one trying to “cancel” the school. As I felt my eyes rolling to the back of my skull it dawned on me: GB News is so tedious, so lacking in nuance, so whiny and frankly so low-quality, it is actually making me more sympathetic to the cause of those they deem “woke”.

For a channel that is so dedicated to fighting “woke warriors”, I’m not sure my reaction is quite what GB News would be hoping for. They might be particularly disappointed to learn that I am someone who myself has been accused of being “anti-woke” (a categorisation I dislike because I resent the framing of the whole debate) due to my criticism of what I consider to be the censorious, insincere, inconsistent and detrimental brand of social justice activism that is currently sweeping across many institutions in the west.

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And it seems it’s not just me finding this perma-culture-wars channel exhausting. One contact, who voted for both Brexit and Boris Johnson, told me: “I was hoping for ‘Spectator TV,’” referring to the conservative magazine, “but instead . . . it’s just tedious, dull and obvious,” adding that its production values “make the BBC look like the Royal Opera House”. Another, who voted the same way, called it “unwatchable”.

Having started strongly, the channel’s viewing figures have fallen. It pulled in a total of 1.8m viewers in the most recent week, according to data from the Broadcasters’ Audience Research Board, down from 2.6m the previous week and compared with ratings of 7.3m for BBC News and 4.9m for Sky News. Its primetime numbers are reportedly five times lower than those for the Welsh language version of the children’s cartoon Paw Patrol.

But despite what many on the left might allege — such as campaign group Stop Funding Hate, which convinced a handful of virtue-signalling companies to pull adverts from the channel — the problem with GB News is not, as far as I can see, that it’s hate-filled. While it might be trying to emulate America’s Fox News, British broadcasting laws require news channels to be impartial, and its presenting roster strikes me as more diverse in terms of ethnicity, gender, social class and political stance than its competitors.

The problem with GB News is that it just isn’t very good. From endless technical glitches to dim lighting, echoey audio and a lack of on-screen chemistry between presenters, the channel has none of the gloss that makes Fox so compelling, and not enough gravitas to make up for it.

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Its approach to culture-war issues is overly simplistic and dumbed down, making them appear trivial, while its constant need to find new outrage dilutes the impact some of its stories might otherwise have. “Surely that’s Hollywood saying gender can’t exist?” declared Dan Wootton during a discussion about Disney World removing “boys and girls” from its greeting so as to be more inclusive. I felt my eyeballs going.

I wrote last year that people shouldn’t worry about GB News reshaping the UK political and media landscape as Fox News has in the US because there is not the same media vacuum on the right in Britain. What I didn’t consider was that GB News could inadvertently help the cause it complains about so incessantly.

jemima.kelly@ft.com





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