This perhaps comes as no surprise to those cynical ones amongst us. GB News has just started up in the UK and it is a clusterf*ck of FOX News copycat opinion TV, polemically arguing for free speech in a very partisan manner. It has been involved in an…interesting nativity…
The rest of the context is this: the culture wars have exploded in the UK because…
1) The European Football Championships have just been on where the England team took the knee before every match.
2) Some England fans booed them for doing so.
3) The PM refused, in Trumpian fashion, to side with the players in an obvious and open manner. The BBC’s political editor Laura Kuenssberg reported on Twitter: “PM said it was ‘totally wrong’ for fans to boo national teams, but he wouldn’t condemn fans who have booed players for taking the knee.”.
4) In a car-crash performance, Home Secretary and generally horrible MP Priti Patel was interviewed on GB News, linking it to pulling down statues and BLM. Ms Patel told GB News, when asked about the England football team taking the knee: “I just don’t support people participating in that type of gesture politics, to a certain extent.” In the same interview, when asked if England fans were right to boo, Ms Patel said: “That’s a choice for them, quite frankly.” When asked if she would boo, she also said: “I’ve not gone to a football match to even contemplate that.”
5) In the finals, the three players who missed penalties were all people of colour. They were then almost immediately victim to widespread racist abuse on social media.
6) This caused a massive public outcry and then Johnson tried to step in, but players, pundits and managers have not been impressed.
7) Patel voiced her disgust but her previous interview came back to haunt her. Black England defender Tyrone Mings hit right back at Patel:
You don’t get to stoke the fire at the beginning of the tournament by labelling our anti-racism message as ‘Gesture Politics’ & then pretend to be disgusted when the very thing we’re campaigning against, happens. https://t.co/fdTKHsxTB2
— Tyrone Mings (@OfficialTM_3) July 12, 2021
8) And the country is in the middle of some further introspection about racism. Things are happening all over the place, such as comedian Andrew Lawrence having his gigs cancelled after himself putting out some pretty openly racist tweets about the penalty takers, and then a punter at one of these gigs threatening the venue and all their staff with death and destruction.
9) GB News are supposed to be all about freedom of speech – it’s their raison d’etre, after all. It allows horrible people to say horrible things.
Classic, classic stoking of the culture wars narrative. GB News are a horrible lot. You know what they will be like since they run a nightly segment called “Woke Watch”. You can guess the sorts of viewers they are aiming to attract. I would love to have been a fly on the wall for the funding meetings and venture capitalists involved in getting this channel up and running. I just wonder how explicit they all were in being, well, horrible.
Back to the point, though.
Racism is front and centre stage, as are the England football team and taking the knee.
Then this happened:
GB News attracted zero viewers during some of its broadcasts this week, according to official television audience figures produced by rating agency Barb, after a viewer boycott prompted by one of its presenters taking the knee in solidarity with the England football team.
The channel has now said the decision of Guto Harri to make the on-air gesture on Tuesday in solidarity against the racist abuse suffered by English players was “an unacceptable breach of our standards”.
A GB News spokesperson declined to say whether Harri, a former spokesperson for Boris Johnson, was still with the channel.
The figures were recorded the day after Harri’s move, which led to widespread fury on social media from GB News viewers who pledged to stop watching the recently launched rightwing current affairs channel, making accusations that it had sold out and gone “woke”, secretly harboured Marxist values, or was in favour of Black Lives Matter.
Other GB News hosts attempted to defend Harri’s right to freedom of speech and said the spirit of the channel was to encourage free debate. Former Coast presenter Neil Oliver, who has a weekly show on the channel, said: “My GB News teammate Guto Harri is right to say and do as he sees fit. I do the same. That’s the ethos of the channel. Free speech. We don’t all agree with each other – that’s the point, or else where’s the debate?”
Oliver’s plea for open debate and tolerance had limited impact and he was then bombarded with even more negative messages from GB News viewers pledging to boycott the channel. This included suggestions that GB News should feature itself on the channel’s nightly “woke watch” segment which highlights incidents perceived to be examples of preposterous behaviour on “culture war” issues.
By Thursday night the channel tweeted: “GB News stands four square against racism in all its forms. We do not have a company line on taking the knee. Some of our guests have been in favour, some against. All are anti-racist. We have editorial standards that all GB News journalists uphold.”
However, it then also tweeted: “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.”
The apparent contradiction caused confusion among social media users.
Just t get this straight, viewers who came to the channel because it is a bastion of free speech standing up against the horrible lefty cancel culture effectively cancelled the channel entirely because someone exhibited free speech.
I get it.
Guto Harri has been indefinitely taken off air as a pre
But, it gets worse. Now that presenter has been…er…cancelled:
Guto Harri has been indefinitely taken off air as a presenter on the rightwing channel GB News, sources at the station have told the Guardian, after being “cancelled” by its viewers because he symbolically took the knee on screen.
The channel is currently in crisis, with other staff considering leaving amid management upheaval, collapsing ratings and plans for a relaunch.
GB News was unable to withstand the strong and sustained viewer backlash to Harri’s display of solidarity with the racist abuse suffered by the England football team. The channel, set up on the basis that free and open debate is no longer possible in the mainstream media due to an all-pervasive “cancel culture”, was overwhelmed with complaints that after just a few weeks on air it had gone “woke” and its content was not sufficiently rightwing.
After three days and a growing boycott, which led to some shows attracting zero viewers, the channel’s management felt the need to cut Harri loose. In a statement GB News said it was “unacceptable” for any presenter to take the knee, a symbol associated with the Black Lives Matter movement, and said Harri had broken the channel’s editorial code.
Friends of Harri said: “GB News is becoming an absurd parody of what it proclaimed to be – not defending free speech and combatting cancel culture but replicating it on the far right. Nasty.
“It’s ridiculous to say he’s breached editorial standards and almost certainly defamatory. In reality it wasn’t a breach of editorial code but ‘sacked for offending the lynch mob’.”
It is unclear which part of the GB News editorial code Harri could have broken. The channel’s public editorial charter commits itself to core values including the “independence of our journalism”, “respect for opinions and those expressing them”, and “the right of every individual to form and share their views”.
A spokesperson for GB News was unable to immediately confirm whether Harri would be leaving the channel, or whether other key staff are still with the station.
The incident comes amid a growing crisis at the channel, which only launched four-and-a-half weeks ago. Some senior off-air staff are understood to have left in recent days amid ongoing turmoil following the channel’s disastrous launch, which was plagued by technical difficulties.
They include Gill Penlington, a respected and experienced producer at rolling news channels such as CNN and Sky News who was brought in as a senior figure ahead of its launch, only to leave earlier this week. The departure of other key off-air figures could be announced imminently, according to sources at the channel.
There is also strong speculation about Andrew Neil’s current relationship with the channel. He was involved with its creation and is chairman of its board, and the station was counting on his flagship 8pm show to bring in the viewers required to make it a success. However, after two weeks on air he has taken an extended holiday in the south of France. Despite posting dozens of tweets, he has not mentioned GB News in almost two weeks or shared any of its material.
The Harri incident has proved indicative of the issues facing GB News. Harri was a longserving BBC correspondent before moving into politics as Boris Johnson’s spokesperson during his first term as mayor of London. He then went to work for Rupert Murdoch’s News UK for several years yet has found himself portrayed by some GB News viewers as a dangerous leftwing Marxist sleeper agent.
There is particular upset among the GB News staff who publicly defended Harri’s right to freedom of speech earlier in the week, only to find their stance later contradicted publicly by management.
Staff describe a split between two broad camps. Some producers and presenters come from a mainstream broadcast journalism background and felt jumping ship to the new channel would give them a fresh challenge or a career boost. Others are approaching it from a more political angle with a personal commitment to culture war topics. In Neil’s absence, the only show with relatively healthy ratings has been Dan Wootton’s late-night show, which has lent heavily into culture war issues.
Neil had made clear before the channel’s launch that he did not want to be a “British Fox News” and would be committed to traditional journalism values albeit with a rightwing twist. However, this appears to be different to what its audience wanted. As David Kurten, a former Ukip politician who now leads the niche rightwing Heritage party, gleefully tweeted at the channel after Harri took the knee: “Go woke, go broke.”
Stay in touch! Like A Tippling Philosopher on Facebook: