The new TV network GB News hit the airwaves on Sunday night after months of heated speculation over its potential impact on the British political discourse, triumphant announcements of presenters poached from rivals, and combative Twitter spats with critics.
The 24-hour-channel launched at 8pm with a special programme called Welcome to GB News hosted by the channel’s chairman and former BBC heavyweight Andrew Neil.
Neil kicked off the launch by introducing the GB News team, including the former Brexit Party candidate and The Apprentice winner Michelle Dewberry, ex-Sky News reporter Colin Brazier, and former The Sun showbiz columnist Dan Wootton.
Describing the network as the “new kid on the block”, Neil promised GB News would not be “an echo chamber for the metropolitan mindset” and would feature “passionate presenters with strong heartfelt personalities and a flair and sense of humour” who “empower those who feels their concerns have been unheard”.
He said: “We are proud to be British, the clue is in the name, and while we will never hold back from covering our country’s many flaws and problems... we won’t forget what the B stands for in our title.
“We will puncture the pomposity of our elites... and expose their growing promotion of cancel culture for the threat to free speech and democracy that it is.”
Neil, who four nights a week will host an hour-long flagship show at 8pm, then attempted to interview his first guest, TV historian and anti-lockdown presenter Neil Oliver.
But the channel’s opening interview was plagued by audio issues, with Oliver inaudible and the show’s producers overheard whispering to each other.
Neil and his associates hope GB News will rival the likes of the BBC and Sky News with a mixture of “original news, opinion and debate”.
But with branding heavy in the colours of the Union Jack and featuring segments labelled Wokewatch and Free Speech Nations, fears have been raised that the channel could herald the arrival of highly partisan Fox News-style coverage in the UK.
Such suspicions are unlikely to have been allayed by Wooton’s first programme, which immediately followed the introductory show presented by Neil.
Tonight Live with Dan Wootton began with a lengthy monologue from the former showbiz journalist criticising the expected delay to England’s exit from the remaining Covid lockdown restrictions.
“It’s increasingly clear now that there is a move among some public health officials and politicians to create an ultra-cautious biosecurity state, copying the likes of China,” he claimed. He urged viewers to “fight back” against “doomsday scientists” who he suggested were “taking control” and were “addicted to the power,” and accused the government of running a Covid “scare campaign” which had “terrified the public into supporting lockdowns”.
Despite Neil’s earlier pledge that GB News would champion unheard voices, Wootton’s first guests on the show included Nigel Farage, a mainstay of the stations’s mainstream broadcast rivals.
Other high-profile signings for the channel include former Sky Sports presenter Kirsty Gallacher, ex-BBC presenter Simon McCoy and former ITV presenter Alastair Stewart offered viewers a taste of their respective programmes from various locations around the GB News studio in Paddington, west London.
McCoy, who will co-host an afternoon programme on the channel, said comparisons between GB News and Fox News were “unfortunate”.
Speaking to PA news agency ahead of the station’s launch, McCoy said: “I think it will be a more friendly approach to news. We’re not a news channel in the sense of Sky News or the BBC, because we can never do what they do, we’re not going to be telling you what’s happening in all corners of the globe, and nice polished packages that go with that.
“We’re much more about getting a feel of what matters to people and reflecting that.”
He added: “I think we need to talk about things that others find uncomfortable, or perhaps too difficult or fearing to tread where they may touch some nerves.
“I don’t think we’ll be afraid to tread anywhere. And if there’s one particular story that we know people are talking about, we’re gonna stick with it. And we’ll take people’s calls, we’ll talk to them and if there are people that they have questions to ask, we’ll try and get them on air to answer them.”
BBC media editor and former Independent editor Amol Rajan has also suggested the comparison between GB News and Fox News is “limited”, though he noted the British channel “is the first to be set up with an explicit political leaning”.
Adam Baxter, director of standards and audience protection at the regulator Ofcom, has also described the station as offering an “unapologetically partisan, right-of-centre take on events”.
GB News is available on Sky on channel 515, Freeview channel 236 and Virgin Media channel 626.