'I am Andrew Neil. And this is GB News.' And so the UK's new-born television news channel launched on Sunday evening, 13 June. Paisley-born, Neil, 72, the veteran BBC broadcaster and former editor of The Sunday Times
, smoothly delivered the opening spiel in his role as chairman of GB News. He will also be fronting a flagship prime time news and interview programme with a 'Wokewatch' section. The channel is the UK's first dedicated news channel since Sky News launched in 1989 and BBC News first aired in 1997.
The channel's opening segment was rather well-chronicled by Chris Bennion in the Daily Telegraph
who wrote: 'Proceedings began at 8pm, with an introductory hour in which Neil chitchatted with the talent, allowing various presenters to set out their stall ahead of their debut shows. First, however, we got a five-minute monologue from Chairman Neil, in which he stared us down through the camera and laid out exactly what was going on. The set-up felt vaguely North Korean.
'Neil didn't tell us anything new, but that was beside the point. This was a chance to nail down GB News's core values, which he has been trumpeting for weeks. "This will not be an echo chamber for the metropolitan mindset," he said. Neither, he said, will it be Fox News. Neil, however, revealed himself with a couple of gags. "We are proud to be British," he said. "We won't forget what the B in our title stands for." Touché. The mission statement, Neil told us, is to "inform, inspire and entertain", simultaneously cocking a snook at the BBC's Reithian principles while subtly having a dig at Beeb execs for forgetting them.'
GB News, which has initial funding of £60 million, will, of course, depend on advertising to survive. Interestingly, I counted some 10 different advertisers in its initial commercial break: Kellogg's, OVO Energy, the National Lottery, WWF, Liverpool Victoria, Deliveroo, the AA, Premier Inn, Cazoo and Amazon.
The fledgling channel has signed a long-term deal with TV transmitter network, Arqiva, to reach 96% of UK households through all major UK platforms including Freeview, YouView, Sky, Virgin Media and Freesat, with HD available on the latter three services. Its Freeview number is 236, 216 on Freesat and available in HD on Sky channel 515 and Virgin Media 626. It is broadcasting from 6am to midnight.
GB News will have a staff of up to 140 people including some 40 journalists. To give you some idea of what they are up against, BBC News employs 6,000 people. I randomly list here those whom I know have already been hired.
They include: Colin Brazier (formerly Sky News); Nana Akua (BBC); Gloria De Piero (former Labour MP, Times Radio and GMTV political editor); Michelle Dewberry (entrepreneur, winner of The Apprentice
in 2006, and former Brexit Party candidate); Andrew Doyle (writer and comedian); Inaya Folarin Iman (freelance journalist); Simon McCoy (BBC News presenter); Liam Halligan (Channel 4 News
economics correspondent and Sunday Telegraph
columnist); Mercy Muroki (social policy researcher); Tom Harwood (Guido Fawkes senior reporter); Neil Oliver (Scottish-born historian, archaeologist and TV presenter); Kirsty Gallagher (Sky Sports News); Darren McCaffrey (Euronews political editor); Alex Phillips (former Brexit Party MEP; head of media for UKIP; ITV and BBC); Alastair Stewart (ITV News); Dan Wootton (executive editor of The Sun
and Talkradio drive-time presenter); Rosie Wright (Euronews, LBC and BBC); Isobel Webster (Sky News); and Paul Hawkins (BBC and Sky).
Caithness-born David Donaldson, 48, is covering the Scottish beat and there is a sizeable regional reporting team focusing on stories around the UK, including Wales and Northern Ireland.
The production staff includes as senior producer Gill Pennington (former BBC Question Time
editor and CNN's director of news programming); Alex Farrell (Talkradio breakfast show); Amanda Hall (assistant editor at Sky News); and Christian Mitchell (LBC's breakfast show).
It is much too early for me to give a constructive opinion on how it is likely to fare although I was reasonably well-impressed with the initial output. What it certainly has not lacked is pre-publicity. Dominic Ponsford, editor-in-chief of media industry website, Press Gazette
, points out: 'In nearly 20 years covering the media beat I have never seen a new launch create as much interest as GB News. Not during the London free newspaper wars, not with Trinity Mirror's attempt to create a feel-good new daily newspaper called the New Day
and certainly not any of the array of news websites that have launched in that time.
'Press Gazette's webpage covering new developments at GB News has been viewed more than 500,000 times which for a niche B2B website like ours is a lot. Every time a new presenter is announced there is an explosion of activity on social media (both positive and negative). Many on the left already have a visceral hatred of the channel fearing it will reinforce right-wing bias in the print media.'
Ahead of the launch, Press Gazette's UK and commissioning editor, Freddy Mayhew, spoke to the channel's news director, John McAndrew, to find out whether it really will be Britain's answer to Fox News.
Mayhew reports that McAndrew swiftly declared: 'What this won't be is a hate-filled, divisive shout-fest that some people seem to have characterised it as, which is 180 degrees away from where we want to be. I didn't ask anyone at their interview how they voted'. Mayhew continues: 'McAndrew tells me when I ask whether the channel will lean to the right politically that it is a suggestion he rejects ahead of the launch, saying instead that GB News will "come at things straight down the middle. We have people with all shades of opinion. There's a place for everyone on the channel. We just got the sense that people were ripe for news done a little differently and done in more of a talk show format". While he doesn't have a target audience in mind, he says signs point to there being "a number of people who feel slightly disconnected or in the market for something new and different – and that's all we're trying to do".
'I ask why these people might feel disconnected from the output of existing TV news channels in the UK,' explains Mayhew. 'He replies: "I don't know. In a way, I don't really want to speculate on what that is. What I do know is that there's a real, quite humbling positivity around what we are doing. Just the sheer amount of interest that surrounds our small but exciting operation leads us to believe that we might be on to something".'
Among the fiercest critics of GB News is campaign group Stop Funding Hate (SFH) which has encouraged its supporters to help stop what it perceives to be Fox News-style TV in Britain by boycotting companies who advertise with it – threatening to target them with #DontFundGBNews once the channel went live. SFH is engaged in a continuous battle to try to cut off advertising revenue to right-leaning news media.
What does McAndrew make of the campaign against his channel? 'It is just the most ludicrous thing,' he replies. 'This is an astonishing attempt at cancelling something that at that point didn't even exist. I think the fact that people wish to be critical about it, call it Fox News, before we have even got on air really is quite a good argument in favour of having a news channel like ours where people should be allowed to speak their mind and speak freely; where all voices are welcome; and where people don't get cancelled and bullied as some people attempted to do to us online.'
McAndrew admits that there is a similarity between GB News and what 'more prominent US networks do' in terms of format, albeit on a far smaller scale, 'because we are a personality-led, appointment-to-view talk and opinion channel,' but he adds pointedly: 'That's as far as the comparison goes'.
McAndrew has an impressive CV. He spent 11 years at the BBC, including editing The Daily Politics
programme from 2003-2005, where he worked along with Andrew Neil. He spent a further 11 years at Sky News and most recently was series editor of topical discussion show, The Agenda
, for ITN while also working as a consulting executive for NBC News.
Meantime Neil, who could well be courting Piers Morgan, late of ITV's Good Morning Britain
show, claims that it is not his rival TV station that is the 'threat' to the BBC, but streaming services. 'I think we are irrelevant to the future of the BBC,' he told Radio Times
. 'I hope we will take some audience from the BBC and I hope we will give the BBC a run for its money in terms of how the news is covered... but we are not a threat to the BBC.' He added: 'The BBC is often its own threat and there are far bigger forces at work from Netflix, Amazon Prime and Disney which are a real threat to the BBC and its younger audience'.
There has been a most sad run of deaths among Scotland's journalistic fraternity. While essentially a news reporter, I covered Aberdeen FC for the Daily Telegraph
and Sunday Telegraph
, the Sunday People
and BBC Radio Scotland during the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. Along the way, I encountered full-time sports reporters from all of the UK's media outlets – a motley crew, some of whom I disliked with a passion. And then there were some I liked with equal passion.
So it was with great sadness that news reached me almost simultaneously of the deaths of two whom admirably fit that latter category – John Mann and Jock MacVicar.
Aberdeen-born Mann, 89, who worked for The Press and Journal
(P&J), The Courier
, Scottish Daily Express
, the Daily Star
and The Observer
during a long career, and Jock MacVicar, 83, born in Southend on the Mull of Kintyre, and still working – a Scottish Daily Express
man through and through. John and Jock were two of the kindest, most helpful, courteous and friendliest of men I have had the privilege of working with in my days on the sports reporting front. True Scottish gentlemen.
And now it is my old mucker, Jim Lawson, the legendary, colourful, most endearing Highlands-based freelance journalist whom is dallying at the Pearly Gates. Jim, who has died of the residual effects of throat cancer, aged 79, began his career with the People's Journal
in 1959, aged 17, and later worked for the Daily Record
, Sunday People
and the News of the World
. Then, after a three-year break, working in the offshore oil industry, he set up the Highlander freelance news agency which he ran from his home in Nairn for the past 30 years.
There was a lovely tribute on Facebook to the Glenurquhart-born newsman. The writer was Brian McCartney – a former staffman on the Daily Record
and Sunday Standard
. Brian wrote most touchingly of Jim, explaining: 'A dear friend and a great journalist. We worked many exclusives together: our swan song – "We're the boys who put the candles on the icing on the cake". The last time we spoke, he signed off: "You might have to look after the candles and icing". I will miss him madly: our boozy lunches and cheery chats on the phone. We were never rivals – always pals and colleagues. All the best. Brian'.
The chief executive of regional publishing group, Newsquest, was made a MBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours List. Henry Faure-Walker received the honour 'for services to regional news journalism and charity'. He has been CEO of Newsquest since 2014 and is currently the chairman of the industry body, News Media Association, which represents local and national news publishers. Henry has worked in the regional news industry for almost 20 years – previously digital director for Johnston Press and general manager of The Scotsman Publications.
He said of his MBE award: 'It's an absolute honour to receive this award but the real recognition should go to the amazing people that work in local news publishing across the UK. It is their news brands that not only provide their communities with essential trusted news but also provide such valuable support in championing charities and promoting local businesses'.
Newsquest publishes more than 150 local newspapers and websites across the UK and reaches over 40 million online users each month.
Former Dumbarton Lennox Herald
reporter, Lorraine Herbison, has some good news of her own. Herbison, who is now the national head of news and sport at Bauer UK, told social media: 'A staggering 28 nominations for our Bauer UK news team in this year's IRN Awards. You can imagine how chuffed I am for everyone after such a tough year. Nine of the nominations are for my fabulous journalists in Scotland and they so deserve them'.
The exodus of female faces on BBC Scotland's television news output, principally Reporting Scotland
, continues. Following Jackie Bird and Catriona Shearer is Sally McNair, 65, who began her career on the Evening Express
in Aberdeen and then became Scotland's first female sports presenter on joining STV's Scotsport
in 1982. She moved to the BBC in 1990.
Down south, Louise Minchin has decided to leave BBC Breakfast
after almost 20 years – first in London then in Salford, setting her alarm for the unearthly hour of 3.40am. Former longtime BBC broadcaster, Jenni Murray, in her column in the Scottish Daily Mail
, sympathises with Louise, pointing out: 'It's a punishing schedule as I know from my years in the 1980s on Today
and then, after Women's Hour
moved to the morning, I required a wake-up call at 5.30am. It curtails the pleasure of evenings out and, having to be sparky at the crack of dawn means you feel pretty whacked out for the rest of the day. I wish Louise enjoyable and relaxing lie-ins, but I bet she'll find herself waking early long after she's left. I still ping awake at 5.30, then remember: it's okay to drift off. Lovely!'
Could I congratulate former DC Thomson (DCT) journalist, Graeme Dey, on his promotion to Minister of Transport in the Scottish Government. Aberdeen-born Dey, 58, was employed by DCT from 1980, latterly as sports editor of The Courier
regional daily, until he was first elected to the Scottish Parliament in 2011 as SNP MSP for Angus South. He served as Minister for Parliamentary Business and Veterans at Holyrood from 2018 to this spring.
As a frequent bus user, I am delighted that Dey has given Scottish bus operators a further £35 million to maintain services between June and October – helping defray the revenues shortfall caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Scottish Government has now given £252.7 million to bus operators during the coronavirus crisis.