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Here isn’t the news

March 5, 2024

Strange times in the UK news market. GB News continues to generate its own headlines by setting new records for Ofcom breaches, while Talk TV announces it is shutting down its broadcast version.

News UK has decided its niche news channel was a bit too niche – the fact star turn Piers Morgan had already decided the same and switched to YouTube, doubtless hastened the decision. TalkTV says it will continue in full-fat mode online only, but for how long remains to be seen.

Beating them in the ratings (the term ratings is quite flattering; all news channels rate badly, small challengers hardly at all), was GB News, but it too is haemorrhaging money. But it isn’t about the money, or not entirely.

Both the Murdoch channel and GB News are attempts to be the Fox News of the UK. Someday, they might make money, but meantime, they are about influence and, in GB News’ case, a determination to exert the same kind of – many would say malign – influence on the body politic as Fox News has in the US.

GB News’ main backer, hedge funder Sir Paul Marshall, has poured in another £41 million to cover the latest losses. He can afford it, his wealth is said to be £600 million+, not bad, but not Jeff Bezos. But the investment is worth it to try and normalise his hard-right views in the UK political landscape.

To the extent this is a counter to the undoubted ‘liberal elite blob’ of mainstream TV news, it might be welcomed. But it’s not like we lack right-wing perspective in the British press! Less welcome is GB News’ evident attitude that breaching broadcast codes – that are there for good reasons to do with prejudice and hate speech – and paying the consequent fines, is a good-value marketing campaign.

I suppose it also means Sir Paul – who recently deleted historic anti-Islamic tweets – can hangout with some our most headbanger politicians, many of whom he is paying handsomely to appear on his station (I really don’t understand that, virtually all of them would pay him to be on).

Of course, the gambit is that this year’s election will somehow establish GB News as a national broadcaster of substance. And I’m sure it will be an able insurgent. But, in the end, the only election it is likely to influence is the one for the next leader of the Conservatives after they have been defeated. And even this might not go to plan if most of the hard right MPs currently pushing the party around lose their seats. A splintered right in the political wilderness may look a less attractive draw for endless investment.

The trouble is these channels (just like our national newspapers) almost never preach (or reach) beyond their own choir – they are echo chambers even more echoey than a social media rabbit hole. And the audiences coming through don’t read the papers or watch the TV for their news and are, therefore, more difficult to capture to any particular ideology.

That’s a potential upside of people getting the news through their social media feeds. Don’t get me started on the downsides.

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