Should brands boycott GB News? ‘It’s like the church complaining about The Exorcist without watching it’

PR professionals are in two camps about whether brands should avoid supporting the soon-to-be-launched TV channel GB News, with several warning such boycotts are premature.

Should brands boycott GB News? ‘It’s like the church complaining about The Exorcist without watching it’

The launch of GB News has generated plenty of headlines and even calls for advertisers to boycott it before it even airs.

The new channel is being headed by seasoned political broadcaster Andrew Neil and CEO Angelos Frangopoulos, the former boss of Sky News Australia. 

Neil said GB News will represent the “vast number of British people who feel underserved and unheard” and act as an antidote to news debate in the UK that is “increasingly woke and out of touch with the majority of its people”.

Frangopoulos, who spoke to PRWeek’s sister publication Campaign, said GB News will “be a welcoming community offering news, views and debate from across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland” and that "anyone wanting shouty, divisive television will be disappointed”. 

Critics, largely on the left, are concerned that GB News could become a UK version of Rupert Murdoch’s contentious Fox News.

The online activist Stop Funding Hate has run an aggressive Twitter campaign targeting GB News with the #DontFundHate – a move that Neil dismissed as “hilarious”.

But is there merit in brands jumping the gun to boycott a TV channel that may not align with their own brand values? And, could supporting GB News prove damaging?

A snap PRWeek Twitter poll suggests communications experts are somewhat divided, and a selection of industry pros reflected that.

Here’s what they said:

It’s too early to judge GB News. However, companies have to ensure that their advertising approach aligns with their purpose. They also need to ensure that any decision is informed by a robust conversation with diverse voices around the table. Transparency also matters, so companies should be prepared to proactively articulate the rationale behind any decision to internal and external audiences.Those that don’t, run the risk of getting called out by employees and consumers.

Lewis Iwu, CEO and founder, Purpose Union

We’re living in a polarised world. Cancel culture is prevalent and has become central to public debate. Brands can be seen as complicit for not taking a stand. For others, empty gestures of solidarity just won’t cut it. Purpose is important. It’s the raison d'être, but the key here is authenticity and audience understanding. An inconvenient truth for our industry is that it’s ok for a brand to be less than worthy if that’s what they’re about and what their customers expect them to be. There's honesty and rawness there. Being socially responsible is about taking bold action with everyone behind that purpose. At Grayling, we’re seeing more ESG-focused briefs. Our job is to question whether there is genuine action or merely paying lip service. When brands don’t live up to their promises, consumers are not afraid to call them out. And as consultants, we do the same with our clients.

Joey Ng, director, Grayling

This is a bit like the Catholic church complaining about The Exorcist without seeing the film, as GB News hasn’t broadcast anything yet. Whatever the actual editorial focus is - it will undoubtedly appeal to a certain type of audience, which provides a targeted advertising opportunity. Combined with TV ad rates being at their lowest for years, it’s a punt many brands will take, especially with a highly respected broadcaster and interviewer in Andrew Neil at the helm. Piers Morgan certainly splits opinion, but that hasn’t hurt the ratings for GMB. In a democratic country, the audience will decide what they want to watch, meaning the advertisers won’t be far behind.

Andrew Olley, co-founder, Olley Goss PR

The media landscape in the UK has traditionally been dominated by right-wing outlets with three billionaire families owning the majority of national newspapers. The rise in digital outlets is making small inroads to change this concentration of ownership. To have a body that is questioning the independence of UK media is authentic democracy. The threat from the Stop Funding Hate campaign is very real and has impacted on big media players over the last 12 months including Facebook, Express, Daily Mail and Sun, with advertisers being named and shamed in the public domain. It will be interesting to see how GB News responds to the pressure when it airs in March. It has committed to conform to Ofcom rules around impartiality, but the jury is out.

Kate Gard, business director, PrettyGreen

I think it is premature to suggest brands could be damaged by advertising on GB News. There has been a lot of talk about GB News becoming the UK’s version of Fox News, with a woke-bashing agenda, but I suspect the reality will be more prosaic. It will have a different tone to other news channels – more irreverent, with more attitude – but it will have to conform to Ofcom rules and hiring Colin Brazier from Sky News hardly suggests the barricades are being stormed. Whilst Stop Funding Hate has had some success with campaigns against newspapers, I think advertisers will judge GB News by what they see, not what they are told to see. In fact, some challenger brands may feel that the ‘overlooked and marginalised’ audience which GB News is targeting may be exactly the audience they are trying to reach.

Tim Jotischky, director of reputation, The PHA Group

In the age of hyper-engaged audiences, brands whose actions and words are not aligned will get called out. As it drums up PR ahead of launch, there is a fair bit of brouhaha around GB News; however, we are yet to see its true colours. Time will tell.

David Frossman-Miller, director of media & entertainment, W Communications

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in