Common Nonsense: The Arrival Of GB News
Friends working in media spent a decade keeping Fox News out of the UK. They did it not because they were politically opposed to the channel’s views but because it stoked fear in the vulnerable for ratings.
The arrival of Andrew Neil’s GB News, a US-style news opinion channel partly funded out of Dubai (and therefore, we assume, by Russian disinformation services) has been treated with a surprising amount of respect in the national press, a medium which is itself dying, and has garnered its first week’s-worth of positive comments from the Times, Telegraph, Mail and others. Its ratings started on a curiosity-driven high and very quickly slumped. Its demographic is 65+ Bs and Cs. The technically inept visual equivalent of LBC radio, it arrived feeling dated and doomed.
Any democracy needs opposing views to survive, but the channel presents a particular challenge. Promising to voice the unrepresented it did the exact opposite, parading all-too-familiar talking heads who have repeatedly been given platforms on the BBC and other channels. These inevitably included gurning dupe/professional failure Mr Farridge from Accounts, babbling on about ‘what people are sick and tired of’, and terminally dim telly actor Laurence Fox. There were no surprises in the format, just the expected attacks on ‘woke’ culture, pro-Brexit rants and that favourite trope of extremists; ‘sensible thinking’.
But it’s this sensible thinking that is gradually shifting Russia, Poland and Hungary from banning LGBT+ discussions in schools to outright fascism. In the excellent Netflix documentary ‘Nail Bomber’, the perpetrator David Copeland explained his reasons for wanting to slaughter as many minorities as possible. He said quite simply that he hated them. His three horrific nail bombs killed and maimed black and gay Londoners and a pregnant woman. I was there the night the biggest bomb went off and saw its horrific effects first-hand. Copeland had soaked his nails in rat urine and faeces to infect his victims.
Reasonable now, rabid later
Copeland was not mad; he was caught out by faking mental illness. He was not interested in assuaging anyone’s fears about himself. He’s an extreme example of where racism leads. So is GB News just revenue-driven air-filler for the chattering classes or the thin end of the wedge? Will it be a case of reasonable now, rabid later? Will we all end up like the silly old sod below, going around peeling ‘Wear A Mask’ stickers off tube trains?
Trying to sound reasonable on TV when you’re spouting racism is almost a pro sport. It’s important to use the assumptive second personal plural so beloved of TV commercials (‘You’re stuck in the office but you’d rather be driving a Jeep’) when asking people to be sensible about sending refugee children back to war zones.
Sensible thinking appeals to the British nature. Should little boys honestly be encouraged to become girls? Aren’t women trying too hard to have it all? The British abolished slavery early so why do we need to pull statues down too? Surely what we need is a little common sense!
It is, until you dig a little deeper. Democracy is about continual micro-adjustments that incorporate all, not just Mr Farridge and his pub pals in the wrong part of Kent. It was inevitable that he would come creeping around the back doors of GB News, hoping that no-one would recall him desperately glad-handing Donald Trump in a gold lift.
But that’s the point; the channel’s core audience does remember and doesn’t care. It can tie itself in ideological knots, changing sides from one day to the next, and nobody minds. It’s also the channel’s curse, because far from causing outrage it merely encourages a shrug of indifference.
It’s All Connected
In the eyes of its viewers GB News scored a powerful goal by smartly pointing out that one of its boycotting advertisers, Ikea, had just been fingered for spying on its employees, although the facts were hardly connected. But interconnection is the name of the game here; G5 radio masts are causing Covid and the vaccine is as dangerous as the MMR jab, although in reality failure to be vaccinated against measles brought it back from the edge of eradication. As children we were inoculated against half a dozen lethal illnesses and many lives were saved, but the data on rare anomalies was not published, so everyone calmly queued for their protection.
The fate of GB News is, I suspect, the fate of all such initiatives in the UK. After the common sense chatter will come rants from ratings-chasing members of the maniac community, then a gentle drift into irrelevance and invisibility as it uses its funding to keep near the top of the EPG while never rising above the kind of core audience you’d expect from a provincial radio station.