The BBC’s news rival: Can this team of 150 outfox Auntie’s 6,000 news staff? 


British broadcasting heavyweight Andrew Neil is at the helm of the GB News channel

Here’s a story that BBC News might not be going very big on this weekend: a rival station launches on Sunday.

GB News will be the first big newcomer to the world of TV current affairs since Sky News appeared in 1989. And at the helm is one of the heavyweights of British broadcasting, Andrew Neil.

The former Sunday Times editor and Daily Mail columnist spent 25 years at the BBC, presenting The Week, The Daily Politics, The Andrew Neil Show, and doing his bit on election nights.

Then suddenly his forensic, fact-packed interviewing style fell out of favour. In July last year he revealed that he’d become ‘surplus to requirements’ and was considering his options.

When Tim Davie took over as director-general in the autumn he tried to persuade him to stay on but it was too little too late and Mr Neil left in September and shortly afterwards announced plans to set up the new station.

What can viewers expect?

There’ll be no rolling news or even hourly bulletins among its annual output of 6,500 hours of programming, but the sort of debate and discussion shows that Mr Neil presented at the BBC. He’ll even be hosting the opening programme, at 8pm on Sunday.

Pictured: studio of new British television news channel GB News which is under construction at The Point in Paddington, north London. The channel is set to launch at 8pm on June 13

Pictured: studio of new British television news channel GB News which is under construction at The Point in Paddington, north London. The channel is set to launch at 8pm on June 13

It won’t be a 24-hour service either. Broadcasts will begin at 6am and will close down at midnight. Just like TV did in the old days. Perhaps they should bring back the little white dot and high-pitched whine that once warned sleepy viewers not to leave the set on all night.

The biggest difference, though, will be cultural. If a minister appears with a Union Jack and a picture of the Queen in the background, GB News presenters won’t get the giggles.

Is it fox news with a British accent?

The shadow of America’s Fox News has loomed over the new channel from the start. Fox is opinionated and robustly Right-wing: it was one of the few mainstream media outlets which had a good word to say about President Trump.

Mr Neil insists that GB News — which will conform to rules on impartiality set by the TV regulator Ofcom — will not be Fox UK.

Pictured: Presenters in the GB News studio located within The Point, Paddington, London

Pictured: Presenters in the GB News studio located within The Point, Paddington, London

‘There are two groups who are going to be very disappointed,’ he says.

‘Those who want us to be like Fox News and those who say we will be like Fox News’.

The new station, which is based in Paddington, West London, hopes to appeal more to the regions — people like Boris Johnson’s Red Wall voters — rather than the metropolitan classes.

Who are the stars on screen?

Apart from Mr Neil, one of the star turns will be former ITN newsreader Alastair Stewart, surely the only broadcaster ever to step down after quoting Shakespeare.

During a spat on Twitter — where else? — he quoted the following lines from Measure for Measure: ‘But man, proud man, dress’d in a little brief authority, most ignorant of what he’s most assur’d. His glassy essence — like an angry ape — plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven as makes the angels weak.’

Alastair StewartGloria De Piero

Alastair Stewart and Gloria De Piero will join the team at GB News when it launches this month

His opponent in the argument, about the funding of the monarchy, was black and complained about the phrase ‘angry ape’.

Although Stewart had used the same quotation in a previous row with a white opponent, he parted company with ITN.

His GB News colleague Gloria de Piero is a former Labour MP who returned to broadcasting — she’d previously been political editor of GMTV — after falling out with her party.

She had complained about a ‘lack of tolerance of different viewpoints’.

No self-respecting news channel can launch without a heavyweight morning show and The Great British Breakfast will be presented by a rotating team of six, including BBC veteran Nana Akua and ex-Sky Sports News anchor Kirsty Gallacher.

Michelle Dewberry will present a show called Dewbs & Co,Kirsty Gallacher

 Former Apprentice winner Michelle Dewberry (left) will present a show called Dewbs & Co while ex-Sky Sports anchor Kirsty Gallacher (right) will join the GB News team’s morning show

Other signings include MailOnline columnist Dan Wootton, historian Neil Oliver, social commentator Mercy Muroki, and Michelle Dewberry, a former winner of The Apprentice.

She will present a show called Dewbs & Co, which sounds more like a dance troupe on Britain’s Got Talent.

Will we finally see the real McCoy?

One of the station’s biggest coups was poaching Simon McCoy from the BBC, where he read the news with a metaphorical raised eyebrow and an occasional air of disbelief.

In October 2017 he was on air when the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge confirmed that they were expecting a baby in April.

This was his reaction: ‘Bearing in mind that they announced that she was pregnant back in September and it was thought that she was around two or three months pregnant, I’m not sure how much news this really is.

‘But anyway, it’s April so clear your diaries, get the time booked off, because that’s what I’m doing.’

McCoy will present an afternoon show with Alex Phillips, a former Brexit Party MP and head of media for Ukip, who had a career in regional TV news before going into politics.

GB News’s other big hire as a news anchor is Colin Brazier, who joins GB News after spending 23 years with Sky News.

Who’s warming the subs’ bench?

Just to keep the other presenters on their toes, Mr Neil has hinted that another big signing might be made once the station has settled down.

Piers Morgan is in discussions about a possible role.

Ratings at ITV’s Good Morning Britain fell sharply to 450,000 — from a peak of 1.9m viewers — after he was forced to leave the show for criticising the Duchess of Sussex.

Channel will launch at 8pm on June 13 with a special programme called Welcome To GB News.

Channel will launch at 8pm on June 13 with a special programme called Welcome To GB News.

Where does the money come from?

The station raised £60 million, largely from three main investors: the American media group Discovery; the hedge fund manager Sir Paul Marshall; and Legatum, an investment company based in Dubai.

GB News — to be funded by advertising — is expected to employ around 150 people.

To give you some idea of what they’re up against, BBC News employs 6,000 people.

Is there really a gap in the news market?

If ever there was a chance to steal viewers from the BBC, it is now when the corporation appears to be losing the trust of the nation (see accompanying column by Mick Hume, left).

A YouGov survey earlier this year found that 54 per cent of people think the BBC does not represent their values.

Pictured: Computers and TV monitors from the offices of GB News which is under construction

Pictured: Computers and TV monitors from the offices of GB News which is under construction

An earlier Ofcom report, criticising the corporation for bias, found that the BBC was seen as the least impartial television news service.

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