The right-wing network's growing audience sadly proves there is an appetite for angry, red-faced, white men shouting at the screens about Meghan Markle and immigrants.
In case you missed it, June 13 marked GB News’ two-year anniversary. Beset with hitches and controversies from day one, the ‘news’ channel that brings Fox-style biased coverage offered by a range of pro-Brexit, right-wing, and, in some cases, Covid-conspiracist presenters, limped to its second birthday.
Not only is the channel still here, but it recently celebrated landing the status of the nation’s most loved news brand, as shown in a Savanta poll.
The survival of the patriotic right-wing network, despite its coarse partisan reporting and stream of controversies, including five separate Ofcom investigations and having been found to have breached Broadcasting Code twice, is concerning, and makes you ask why and how? It also makes you wonder if the channel’s recent ‘brand love’ win tells the whole story?
A plaything for right-wing millionaires
On its debut broadcast, former BBC presenter Andrew Neil – who was the face of the network in its infancy but left after just three months, probably when he realised its crass right-wing politics were making him look foolish – introduced the channel. Neil laid out an agenda for the network. Wanting to portray the broadcaster as a credible insurgent force in British media, he promised there would be no Fox-style rants, and everything would be fact-checked.
The promised agenda could not have been further from the broadcaster’s actual agenda. With self-described ‘disruptors’ given a platform to shout their blinkered views, including Nigel Farage, Darren Grimes, Dan Wootton and Tom Harwood, the news station quickly became a hotbed for right-wing rants.
One of the most memorable outbursts has to be Farage picking a fight with RNLI lifesavers. In July 2021, the former UKIP leader barked out a five-minute rant on his show criticising the work of the lifeboat charity for being a “taxi service for illegal trafficking gangs” by saving lives in the English Channel. Fortunately, the rant didn’t have the desired effect as the RNLI received more than £200,000 in donations after Farage’s comments.
Such outbursts have proven damaging for GB News, at least on an advertising level.
One of the biggest and earliest controversies was the advertising boycott, which remains intact today. Realising its true ‘anti cancel’ culture, ‘bastion of free speech’ agenda, (a certain kind of free speech of course), advertisers started retreating from the channel at speed. Cider brand Kopparberg was the first to stick two fingers up, claiming they didn’t even know they were being advertised on the channel. Ikea was next in line, saying they too didn’t know their adverts were running on GB News’ airwaves. Grolsch, Nivea, the Open University, Specsavers, and more, have all since suspended GB News’ adverts.
Faced with a high-profile advertising boycott, you wonder how the station affords its output. In its first year alone, it paid over £11 million in salaries to its staff. In a desperate bid to reverse its fortunes, the channel invested in a number of Tory MPs to present their own shows, including Jacob Rees-Mogg, Esther McVey, Philip Davies and, most recently, Lee Anderson. The outspoken Tory deputy chairman nets £100,000 a year for a presenting gig, while Tatton MP Esther McVey earned £58,650 as a presenter in 2022, at an average of just under £900 per episode.
So, how the hell does GB News afford it?
Firstly, it doesn’t really afford it. In its first year of broadcasting, the network racked up a pre-tax loss of £30.7m. Secondly, its advertiser boycott seems to be softening. In the second half of 2022, it attracted more than 180 advertisers, including Burger King, Jet2, Camelot, TalkTalk and Weetabix. Its 2022 accounts show that the majority of GB News’ revenue – over £2.9 million – came from advertising. And thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, it is funded by right-wing millionaires determined to spend their fortunes on controlling public discourse.
A long way from the patriotic image GB News strives to promote, which sees it play the national anthem every morning and boast a red, white and blue logo, the network’s investors are remarkably international in character.
The channel is jointly owned by hedge fund manager Sir Paul Marshall and Legatum, under the umbrella company, Perspectives Limited. Legatum is an investment firm housed in the Dubai International Financial Centre, a tax-free zone in the United Arab Emirates. The company reportedly put £20m into the network’s initial £60m fundraising, touted at the time as a three-year funding pot. New Zealand-born billionaire Christopher Chandler is the founder and chairman of Legatum.
Why a New Zealander based in the Middle East would want to influence British politics by investing in a right-wing news channel might be hard to fathom, but if we dig a little deeper, it starts to make sense. The Legatum Institute (LI) is a right-wing, free market-promoting think-tank. It was founded in 2007 by the Legatum Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Dubai-based investment firm Legatum. It is one of a string of right-wing think-tanks associated with secretive funding sources to influence the UK government. As well as pushing for a ‘hard Brexit,’ the ‘free trade’ loving think-tank became well-known for its access to Tory ministers.
And the advancement of free-market, deregulation politics is a theme that is regularly pushed out to GB News audiences. Earlier this year, for example, GB News presenter Emily Carver argued in favour of free-market economics, claiming that people who contend that the model always fails are ‘unfair.’
But as Solomon Hughes in Tribune Magazine notes, Thatcherite deregulation isn’t going to make good viewing, so GB News cleverly advances the pro-corporate policies corporations like Legutum and its right-wing think-tank philanthropic arm the Legatum Institute are all about, behind a veneer of anti-woke, culture war themes to generally encourage the Right.
Pro-Brexit hedge fund boss Paul Marshall also reportedly invested £10m into the initial £60m funding pot. The millionaire Tory Party donor temporarily replaced Neil as chairman of GB News in September 2021. Marshall also founded and funds UnHerd, another platform for sensationalist right-wing political commentary.
Under pressure from a head-to-head battle with Rupert Murdoch’s well-financed new rival network, TalkTV, in August 2022, while operating at a loss, GB News reportedly secured £60m of new investment from Marshall. The Brexit-backing millionaire bought out the network’s co-founders Andrew Cole and Mark Schneider, as well as the US entertainment giant Warner Bros. Discovery.
Discovery’s UK financial accounts subsequently revealed that it sold its 25 percent stake in GB News for £8m, a 60 percent drop on the original £20m it paid. This suggests the value of GB News has fallen from £80m at launch to £32m.
But with a new £60m cash injection under its belt from a filthy rich right-wing source, the channel could in effect be sustained for a number of years. Hence the frantic bid to pull in high-profile right-wing commentators, including some of the most controversial and outspoken voices in Westminster, with lucrative salaries. Afterall, the channel has to compete with a £45m deal with Piers Morgan, the face of its arch-rival station, TalkTV.
But is filling its airwaves with big ‘straight-talking’ names spouting their Brexit-loving, culture war-stoking, right-wing propagandistic views winning over viewers?
In May 2023, BARB figures show GB News pulled in a linear TV audience of 3.4m. Right-wing rival TalkTV meanwhile, attracted just 1.8m. Compare this to BBC News, which drew in 10.7m and its closest rival Sky News’s reach of 8.7m, and the two new right-wing TV entrants are significantly trailing the established impartial news sources in the battle for TV ratings. And this is despite BBC News having lost 1m UK viewers the previous month, after an international merger and presenter purge.
GB News Radio’s audience is growing but is still lower than its commercial competitors. In May, the channel bragged about its radio audience growing by 4 percent to reach an average 319,000 people a week, whose total listening hours were up by 23 percent in the first three months of 2023 compared to Q4 of 2022. According to the station, its ‘hugely loyal following’ is the ‘highest of all news and current affairs broadcasters.’
In March, in a bid to compete ‘much more aggressively” outside the UK, the GB News website was changed to a dotcom URL. Geoff Marsh, the channel’s chief digital officer, told staff the broadcaster had set itself up on a “launchpad to explode” its online audience. Marsh had joined GB News from the Daily Express, where he is said to have built the newspaper’s website into an ‘SEO powerhouse.’ The broadcaster’s previous URL gbnews.uk had 3.5 million visits in December, 5.4 million in January and 6 million in February. A GB News spokesperson told Press Gazette that the website, with a new URL, now reaches 10 million online viewers a month. While the dotcom move and the recruiting of a tenacious online ‘disruptor,’ seems to have paid off in the network’s mission to ‘compete much more aggressively, and faster, globally,’ its digital content still falls a long way short of the online audiences the established news brands are pulling in.
In Press Gazette’s Top 50 online UK news brands for internet reach in April 2023, the BBC topped the table with an online audience of 38.1m, translating into an 76 percent total audience reach. The BBC was followed by the Sun, with a 26.3m audience, marking a 53 percent reach. GB News was in 27th position, with an audience of 5.8m, a 12 percent reach.
But perhaps the most interesting, and the most alarming, metric, is the year-on-year change in audience. While the likes of the BBC showed negative annual audience changes, GB News’ was up by 469 percent.
After a disastrous start, if audience growth is anything to go by, GB News is witnessing something of a bounce back. Backed by overseas funders with right-wing interests and seemingly bottomless pockets, who are willing to pay some of the biggest right-wing names in journalism and politics lucratively, the channel, it seems, is making inroads as a British media disruptor.
But it is far from a clear-cut or rosy picture. With original investors pulling out with heavy losses, meaning the value of the channel has nosedived, amid an ongoing advertising boycott, GB News’ target of being the ‘biggest in TV news by 2028’ seems dubious.
That said, its growing audience proves there is an appetite for angry, red-faced, overweight white men shouting at the cameras about Meghan Markle and immigrants. But there is also an appetite to throw things at the screen in disbelief if you happen to stumble upon one of Nigel Farage’s or Dan Wootton’s bigoted rants by mistake. How many of GB News’ audience constitute such political masochists, who knows?
In an attempt to offer an explanation about how GB News became Savanta’s most-loved news brand, Shaun Austin, Head of Media at Savanta, said the network also scored highly when it came to the most ‘hated’ brand. Of course, that particular metric didn’t make it into the right-wing media’s gushing reports on the poll.
“Much like a famous yeast-based toast spread, the public tend to either love or hate GB News,” writes Austin.
Watching GB News is like entering an alternative universe, but the fact that people do – and a growing number of people do – testifies the hugely polarised political times we’re living in. With networks like GB News and TalkTV dangerously feeding right-wing partisan ideologies, our only hope is that Ofcom toughens up and censures these channels for the misinformation and dangerous views they spread more decisively, instead of taking months of delay, dither, and indecision. It took almost a year, for example, for Ofcom to find that presenter Mark Steyn had breached rules on potentially harmful content for spreading misinformation about the Covid vaccine.
Perhaps then the self-styled ‘voice of Real Britain’ will start acting a bit more responsibly, i.e stop being a school for scoundrels to spout shit-stirring nonsense.
We can live in hope.
Right-Wing Media Watch – Tory press seek scapegoat for Britain’s mortgage woes
With interest rates rising again this week for the thirteenth time in a row, things are looking pretty glum for borrowers in Britain. The Resolution Foundation suggests the average cost of a mortgage will go up by almost £3,000 for the 800,000 people re-mortgaging next year.
Amid the economic carnage, things are looking pretty glum for Andrew Bailey too. The Bank of England governor has been the focus of some unflattering headlines this week.
‘Bank of England boss is an over-promoted plodder with a record of failure,’ says the Sun.
The editorial claims that Bailey ‘ambles on with impunity towards the next disaster, raising rates ineffectually and too late.’
But this is the best part… “The Tories, with our economy in tatters, can do little but soak up the flak and pray things improve.”
Advocating for a government to do little but ‘pray things improve,’ hardly equates to critical journalism that fosters accountability in a fact-driven, unbiased way. But then it is the Sun, so what should we expect?
Needless to say, the Times and Mail were at it as well. The former’s frontpage on Thursday splashed on accusations from senior Tories and the Chancellor’s advisors, that Bailey had misjudged the crisis. In an excoriating lead article, the newspaper contends: “Mr Bailey missed his calling because he would have made an excellent defence counsel. Alibis for Britain’s outlier status on inflation (now twice the US rate) have issued regularly from the man whose primary mission is to control it … [His] excuses have worn away his credibility.”
The same day, the Daily Mail made criticism of the BoE its frontpage story.
“Tories turn on Bank over rates crisis,’ was the headline.
“Senior Tories and economists turned on the Bank of England last night as it prepared to heap more misery on homeowners,” the article continued.
Now who can remember Rishi Sunak in January promising to halve inflation by the end of the year? It was one of his five pledges.
Surely, if the Prime Minister decided to ‘own’ the promise to halve inflation, how can it solely be the fault of the Bank of England?
But of course, we’ve been here before. In October 2022 when the Truss/Kwarteng mini budget brought economic carnage to Britain overnight, Liz Truss allies blamed the Bank chief for the market meltdown. Jacob Rees-Mogg, who was business secretary at the time, suggested a failure to raise interest rates quickly was at the root of the turmoil in financial markets.
Meanwhile, Iain Duncan Smith, writing for the Express, said the Bank of England boss needed ‘to pipe down and stop undermining Truss.’
There is no doubt that with this week’s thirteenth consecutive interest rates rise since December 2021 bringing more pain to millions of households, Andrew Bailey is under pressure. And the Governor did little to rescue his reputation by blaming inflation on workers’ wage rises. But it also seems clear that in facing a looming political nightmare and gazing down the barrel of election defeat, Tories, backed up by their press cheerleaders, are desperately seeking a scapegoat.
Bailey is under fire, and perhaps rightly so, but eliminating the uncomfortable legacies of the disastrous Truss era from the Bank-blaming commentary is surely a bit careless and unfair?
Woke-bashing of the week – DeSantis’ anti-woke GOP campaign collapses, in what could be a valuable lesson for Britain’s culture warriors
Some good news at last, well kind of. Ron DeSantis, the Florida governor who has promised to ‘destroy leftism’ if he became president, is struggling. In fact, his popularity is nosediving, proving that basing a whole campaign around ‘anti-wokeism’ isn’t good for business.
Recent DeSantis tracking numbers from Civiqs, shows that the Florida governor’s Republican candidacy prospects are looking really bad, and that his rightward lurch has done significant damage to his brand. The data shows that even the hoped-for breakthrough among Hispanic voters isn’t happening for DeSantis. Since November, positive views of DeSantis among Americans, have declined.
Thoughts of the culture war-stoking governor, who was once lauded by many on the Right as a political rock star, have declined by 19 points among Republicans, 18 points among independents, and 17 points among Democrats.
In recent weeks, a backlash to DeSantis’ extremist agenda in Florida has been escalating.
Amid its fall-out with the governor over his controversial ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill, which curtails how questions of sexuality and gender expression can be discussed and handled in schools, Disney, which opposes the bill, announced it was axing plans to build a new $1bn campus in Orlando. The building of the facility would have brought 2,000 jobs to the state.
At the same time, businesses have started to protest the governor’s outrageous immigration law. A nationwide immigrant work strike took place against the new bill, which makes it illegal to transport or shelter undocumented people. The bill also increases fines for hiring undocumented workers, and hospitals will have to ask about a person’s immigration status. The law will go into effect on July 1.
Additionally, major state-wide conferences are getting cancelled because of the hostile political climate.
I said ‘kind of’ good news earlier because as the once regarded GOP frontrunner’s popularity collapses, Trump is storming ahead. The latest national poll shows Trump is ahead of DeSantis by more than 30 points. Even here though there is the faintest of reasons to begin to be cheerful: for the first time one poll suggested that Trump’s approval rating had fallen to just below 50 percent among Republicans. Given that he normally commands the support of 60 to 70 percent and more of the party’s supporters, it may be that the ceaseless lawsuits and the withdrawal of Fox News support, is beginning to impact on the thinking of some Americans.
While they share stances on hardline anti-immigration and tax cuts, DeSantis and Trump aren’t clones. Trump’s hallmark leans towards a populist anti-globalisation crusade, and DeSantis’s is his ‘anti-woke’ agenda.
Either way, you can’t help but feel smug that the Florida governor’s principal pitch to Republicans about being a more competent implementer of Trump’s right-wing agenda with extra contempt of wokeism thrown in, isn’t paying off. In fact, it’s backfiring.
The demise of DeSantis and his woke-bashing crusade could and should provide valuable lessons for politicians in Britain, where a similar ‘war against woke’ has been gaining momentum.
Let’s hope that Kemi Badenoch, the so-called ‘anti-woke darling of the Right’, who met with Ron DeSantis, her, as Express so eloquently put it, ‘political love match’, in London in April, is taking note.
Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead is author of Right-Wing Watch