GB News – the first dedicated television news channel to launch in Britain in more than two decades – goes live for the first time on Sunday.
But even before its first broadcast at 1900 GMT, it has had to fend off unfavourable comparisons to the firebrand and divisive populism of US network Fox News.
The British broadcaster says it aims to cater to a broad audience, including marginalised communities that backed the 2016 Brexit vote to leave the European Union.
And it has billed itself as “Britain’s news channel”, unashamedly draping itself in the red white and blue of the Union Jack as it prepares to face off with more established competitors such as the BBC and Sky News.
“Our presenters will have the freedom to say what they think, to have some fun and to be brave about the issues that really matter to the people of Britain,” said director of news and programming John McAndrew.
The station, which has a staff of 140 journalists based at newly acquired offices in west London, has attracted a string of high-profile UK broadcasters.
Chief among them is veteran journalist Andrew Neil.
Even he is being cast as an outsider, despite having worked for 25 years at the BBC, edited Rupert Murdoch’s establishment weekly the Sunday Times and founded Britain’s last successful TV start-up, Sky.
“We are for people who think the existing channels don’t quite represent how they see things,” Neil told London’s Evening Standard newspaper.
The media stalwart has had to rebuff criticism since the creation of GB News was first announced in September claiming the channel will be a British clone of the bombastic Fox News and will feed the flames of an already fractious culture war.
McAndrew told trade publication Press Gazette this week the channel will not be a “hate-filled divisive shout-fest.”
War on woke
To its detractors, the similarities between Fox and the new channel are clear.
GB News’ opinion-driven coverage, heavily focused on anchors and personalities, seems like a carbon copy of the right-wing US network, they say.
The promise to reach audiences hostile to the BBC and which were under-represented in the Brexit debate has also drawn comparisons to Fox’s model, which cultivated viewers opposed to the “mainstream media” and status-quo politics.
Neil’s own show will contain a segment called “Woke Watch”. But he has dismissed the comparisons as “easy, inaccurate” analysis.
“In terms of format, we are like Fox but we won’t be like Fox in that they come from a hard-right disinformation fake news conspiracy agenda,” he has said.
GB News chief executive Angelos Frangopoulos, who implemented Fox-style programming as the former boss of Murdoch’s Sky News Australia, has also fended off arguments that the new channel will be a right-wing alternative to the BBC.
Jane Martinson, a professor of journalism at London’s City University said she believed there had been a “certain amount of hysteria on both sides” in the build-up to the launch.
“There’s an element of people saying, ‘it’s Fox’, and it’s not yet on so we’ve got to wait and see,” she told AFP.
“On the other side, if you criticise it, you are part of the ‘liberal intelligentsia’, which is a really easy argument and sort of a slightly hostile one.”
Martinson pointed out that it should not be possible to recreate US-style news in Britain because of the regulator OFCOM’s strict rules for news channels.
“We shouldn’t have something like Fox or indeed CNN, because we have impartiality guidelines and rules,” she said.
“It will be really interesting to see how they (GB News) toe the line.”
Des Freedman, a journalism professor at Goldsmiths, University of London, said he was concerned the launch could move the prevalent “anti-woke” debate dominating Britain’s tabloid newspapers into broadcasting.
“This isn’t about breaking news, this is going to be about the chat on the sofas,” he said.
“And that chat will be very much dominated by people with a particular view around free speech and around the idea that we’re in the middle of a culture war.”
He also questioned the interests of the investors and founders of GB News.
The channel secured £60 million ($85 million, 70 million euros) of investment in December from Discovery, a US media group, the Dubai-based investment company Legatum, and Paul Marshall, a London hedge-fund manager.
“I just think it’s kind of ironic, that something that positions itself as GB News has such an influence for people residing abroad,” said Freedman.