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Want a lesson in journalism? Don’t look to GB News

GB News

Editor-in-Chief Marino Unger-Verna on the tumultuous launch of GB News, the hypocrisy of its leaders, and what we can learn from the channel’s mistakes.

GB News has had one hell of a first month on air. Before its first broadcast in mid-June, channel representatives promised the UK’s answer to American news channels such as MSNBC and Fox News: “Anchors with a bit of edge, a bit of attitude, bit of personality”, all the while remaining “free, fair, impartial, and Ofcom regulated”. Explaining his goals, chief executive Angelos Frangopoulos told Insider that GB News would be anti-cancel culture and “wokeness”, saying: “We have found ourselves as a target of that which really quite frankly has underscored the need for a service like GB News.” Remember this bit, because we’ll swing back to it later.

Thirty-two days later, the Guardian reported the network had “attracted no measurable audience” at certain points of the week, down from an initial peak of 2.2 million. Major advertisers have paused or outright withdrawn their support of the network, and Guto Harri, one of the channel’s anchors, has been fired after taking the knee on-air. What exactly happened in those thirty-two days – and what can we learn from GB News’ missteps?

Testing, One Two…

By all accounts, GB News’ launch can only be described as haphazard and rushed. A Twitter account called @GBNewsFails even took to documenting the repeated technical flubs which defined the channel’s first week on air, while some of the network’s guests and audience members purposefully brigaded its segments. Comedian Adam Pacitti appeared on GB News asking a pointedly innocent question while simultaneously mooning viewers via his mirror. Audio issues caused reporters on-scene to be utterly drowned out by hecklers jeering in the background; ad breaks either cut too early, too late, or not at all; an on-screen graphic meant to display the location of reporting instead exclaimed “LIVE: LOCATION NEEDED HERE!!!”.

Regardless of whether you agree with the views expressed by GB News’ anchors, one could not help but feel a bit sorry for them. Serious reporters were forced to become part-time comedians as they made excuses for the team behind the scenes. The first true test of the network’s commitment to journalistic integrity, however, came alongside the Matt Hancock affair scandal.

Smile for the Camera

On June 25, 2021, the Sun released footage of then-Health Secretary Matt Hancock having an affair with one of his aides, Gina Coladangelo. A golden era for journalists and Twitter meme pages alike, questions quickly began to surface asking where the Sun had gotten the pictures and videos from inside Hancock’s private office. Two days after the original story, GB News tweeted an image of a Freedom of Information (FOI) request the network allegedly sent to the Department of Health and Social Care, telling its audience: “We’re asking the questions that matter to you.”

As members of a student media group within the KCLSU, Roar writers receive basic student media training which we expand upon as we progress in our respective careers. Part of this training covers what an FOI request is and how to properly submit one. A single glance at GB News’ request tells me – and would tell any journalist with an iota of training or experience – that this network is not serious about actually uncovering information for its audience.

The Freedom of Information Act is designed to hold public entities and authorities accountable. One major caveat: the Act specifies types of information that are exempt from FOI requests. One of these exemptions, Section 24, excludes information pertaining to national security. Asking the government to reveal which members of its staff have access to CCTV footage, which employees approve security measures, and whether ministers are aware of security procedures on their premises are all points which likely fall squarely under this exemption. More ironically, the first line of the FOI request – which is posted publicly on Twitter – reads “private and confidential”. Right-wing pundits and commentators often speak vehemently about so-called “performative activism”, such as taking the knee before sporting events to protest racism. GB News’ FOI request, however, cannot be seen as anything but pointless performativity; a network that continually speaks out about practices it views as baseless, then turns around and presents the same tactic to its audience on a silver platter.

Hey, wait. What was that about taking the knee?

“Oversimplification”, or “Oh no, Guto stepped out of line”

During a discussion about racial abuse targeting black players in the aftermath of Euro 2020, presenter Guto Harri took the knee live on air, telling viewers: “I’ve never understood why people find it offensive. […] I may have underestimated how close to the surface the racism still was, so much so that I think we should all take the knee. In fact, why not take the knee now and just say it’s an important gesture.” Taking the knee had been a hot topic for the network previously, with broadcasters Rebecca Hutson and Nana Akua getting into a “heated argument” about whether police officers should be permitted to make the statement in mid-June. In this instance, however, there were consequences for Mr Harri.

On July 15, GB News tweeted a series of the most blatantly contradictory statements I have had the macabre pleasure of reading. After assuring followers that the network “stands four-square against racism in all its forms” and does not have a company policy regarding presenters taking the knee, a subsequent Tweet went on to read: “On Tuesday a contributing presenter took the knee live on-air and this was an unacceptable breach of our standards. We let both sides of the argument down by oversimplifying a very complex issue.” Guto Harri left GB News shortly afterwards, followed closely by Director of Programming John McAndrew. In a piece for the Sunday Times, Mr Harri expressed his belief that GB News has become “an absurd parody of what it proclaimed to be”. I find it impossible to disagree.

GB News’ website features a page entitled “Our Editorial Charter“, which sets out the editorial and ethical guidelines supposedly practised by the network. Two such guidelines are “respect for opinions and those expressing them” and “the right of every individual to form and share their views”. These regulations are some of the most basic and necessary requirements in the responsible creation of journalism. Roar, for instance, publishes a variety of different viewpoints in its Comment section. As an editor, I may not personally agree with all our writers’ views, but my fellow editors and I understand the need for and importance of varied opinions and perspectives, provided they do not violate our ethical guidance.

In practice, however, GB News has shown itself to be utterly reactionary, so beholden to its insular, core audience that those at its head are willing to violate its principles lest they be “cancelled”. The initial premise of GB News, a network against “cancel culture” in all its forms, collapsed under its own weight in under a month.

The saddest part of this whole debacle, in my mind, is watching journalists become tangled in the web of hypocrisy that is GB News. This stood out to me most in a conversation on air between anchors Nana Akua and Kirsty Gallacher. After listening to “One Britain One Nation”, a school-time song newly endorsed by the government, Ms Akua expressed her heartfelt approval. Ms Gallacher, however, had a different perspective: “Quite shocked, really. No, I don’t want my children singing- no.” The conversation then becomes visibly awkward, with the former presenter attempting to make jokes as the latter, seemingly aware that her viewpoint may not be received well, slowly walks back on her initial shock: “It’s a little bit too much for me. I get the patriotism… no, listen, beautiful song, as I said. I’m just- the jury’s out. Maybe- listen, I hadn’t heard it until now, because we waited until we came on air. I don’t know whether it is a bit propaganda-like. […] Let us know your thoughts, I’m undecided at the moment.”

Speaking directly to advertisers who have pulled their funding from GB News, presenter Andrew Neil made an impassioned plea: “It’s quite remarkable that serious, important executives in well-established companies can be so easily cowed. They have all taken the knee to stop funding hate. It’s important that they – and you – realise to whom they are enthralled.” As members of the network’s staff begin to take their leave, it would seem they took this message to heart as well.

Of all those embroiled in this veritable dumpster fire, they have made the correct decision. We, as journalists, should all be entitled to our opinions – provided, of course, that they are not harmful to groups or individuals, and are backed up by fact. Our industry relies on the simple guarantee that we can voice our minds without being struck down out of the gate. Until the higher-ups at GB News learn this crucial lesson, the network will never be a serious player in UK broadcast media – nor should it be.

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