GB News: an opportunity for the PR industry or ‘Gammon TV’?

GB News, the hotly-anticipated new broadcast channel with a right-wing take, launched last night to muted fanfare due to an unfortunate scheduling clash with a first-round match in the European football championships.

Does GB News represent a fresh opportunity for the PR and comms industry?
Does GB News represent a fresh opportunity for the PR and comms industry?

The presenters, including veteran political broadcaster Andrew Neil and economics correspondent Liam Halligan, seemed oddly ill-at-ease, and even awkward at times during the launch programme, which was followed by a three-hour talk show hosted by Dan Wootton, a former senior journalist at The Sun.

Production was patchy, with some guests inaudible at times and producers heard whispering to each other, while a segment on Wootton’s show featuring Nigel Farage cut away from the arch-Brexiteer to a pizza advert as he was about to pass judgment on whether Boris Johnson was ‘woke’.

The presenters, who include former MP Gloria de Piero, were at pains to emphasise that they will cover the news their viewers are interested in: “Tell us the stories that matter to you,” they exhorted those watching.

The potential flaw in this editorial strategy is in assuming that the news values and consumption of right-wing viewers are any more homogenous or less fractured than for those on the left. What one viewer demands to see more of on GB News may well be of no interest at all to the rest of its audience.

But teething problems and the launch show running against the football aside, the UK has its first new broadcast news outlet in decades. The emergence of the channel could present an opportunity for PR agencies, brands and organisations, including those which have previously received little air time. We asked industry professionals for their first impressions of the channel.

Steve Hawkes, head of strategic media, BCW London and former deputy political editor at The Sun

Steve Hawkes
Steve Hawkes

Launching a TV channel now – at a time everyone is going online – is brave, if not foolhardy, and GB News could struggle to be viewed as anything other than ‘Brexit TV’.

Just as Times Radio is still largely seen as ‘Remain Radio’ for the metropolitan listener, GB News will not want to be pigeonholed as ‘Gammon’ for the 60-year-old from Kent.

But, given a fair wind, Andrew Neil’s team could shake up TV news, at the very least by giving more-established rivals something new to worry about and greater competition for interviews.

The strange backdrops and technical glitches on opening night and into Monday will have been lapped up by critics. Yet seasoned pros at the station expect the mainstream media to try to rip them apart.

The biggest challenge will be the financial situation in one year's time, and whether the shareholders can absorb the losses that will inevitably come.

Farzana Baduel, chief executive of Curzon PR and resident PR expert at Oxford University’s entrepreneurship centre

Farzana Baduel
Farzana Baduel

As PRs know, first impressions count. The GB News launch with its technical issues may lead to GB News struggling to gain real credibility. PRs are wondering if it's worth pitching to when the initial media around the launch has been rather negative. The Guardian commentator Stuart Jeffries doesn't think it will go the distance, saying in his column that he would give it a year. Sean O'Grady of the Independent summed it up nicely, saying that it looked like an edition of Newsnight where the researcher forgot to book some guests to give expert opinion and/or the other sides of a debate.

Sean Allen-Moy, head of media and corporate at Tin Man and former Sky News and BBC producer

Sean Allen-Moy
Sean Allen-Moy

My first reaction is that there doesn't appear to be a lot of news on GB News. Lots of talk about covering stories that matter to people, not the media bubble, but so far the output has been dominated by media pundits talking about: taking the knee, Harry and Meghan, lockdown restrictions. So far, so predictable. The inclusion of Nigel Farage as one of the first guests is a sign of the audience they're chasing and won't allay the fears of those expecting a UK version of Fox News. I'm waiting for the journalism, for the giving a platform to a wide variety of voices, for the fresh take on the way Britain does news – after seeing Dan Wootton, Carole Malone and Allison Pearson on opening night, I'm not holding my breath.


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