The Farage effect
With the arrival of Nigel Farage at GB News, Raymond Snoddy looks at what could happen with a further lurch to the right
For the many who do not wish it well, the current turmoil at GB News provides a welcome burst of schadenfreude in difficult times.
Everything that could possibly go wrong has gone wrong. The technical problems with basic broadcasting ingredients such as sound have persisted and much more important, mainstream television professionals, such as news director John McAndrew and Gito Hari have departed.
Only an unlucky news channel could also lose an established pro such as Alastair Stewart, at least for now, to an accident with a horse.
As Andrew Neil continues his sojourn at his home in the south of France and some programme segments achieve a difficult to achieve BARB accolade - no measurable audience present- the inevitable happens.
When you have a serious, and possibly existential problem for a right-of centre TV channel there is only one way to go - a lurch further right in the form of the arrival of former UKIP leader Nigel Farage.
This strategy comes right out of the Rupert Murdoch playbook, although the owner of Fox News has nothing to do with GB News having put his toe in the water for his own-right-of-centre channel and found the financial prospects glacial.
So far though, Farage has hardly set the world alight.
There has been brave coverage of anti-lockdown protests in London after all the main restrictions had already been lifted, rewarded with a stream of live expletives.
The Farage show also featured studio guests who insisted on agreeing with each other.
As The Independent noted, it was like a football match with only one team on the pitch and a boring friendly at that.
Some sticklers for the facts might also take issue with the Farage claim that membership of the EU would have prevented the UK pushing ahead with its own vaccination programme.
GB chairman Neil always insisted that the channel would not be a British version of Fox News. There is no reason to doubt his sincerity but there is a clear danger that an economic imperative will now take over and that the channel, in search of elusive audiences, will slip inexorably in that direction.
Senior Ofcom executives who saw nothing wrong in a regulatory sense with early GB News output, despite hundreds of complaints, will be watching carefully to ensure that nothing like the current Fox News plunge to the right, complete with outright disinformation, will happen here.
The warnings from America are stark about the pact Murdoch made to protect his ratings and revenues from even further right competitors such as Newsmax and One America News Network.ion.
As Michael Wolff says in Landslide, his new book about the last days of the Trump administration, “Murdoch hates Trump but loves money.”
In the aftermath of the Presidential election, Fox News commentators repeatedly questioned the legality of the election, although this stance changed after election machine manufacturers lodged lawsuits against Fox.
The current dangerous issue is over vaccination.
Fox News has allowed hosts such as Tucker Carlson to question the link between anti- vaccinations and deaths, claiming that this is not an unvaxxed pandemic.
In fact, all the deaths in Maryland since June have occurred in people who have not been vaccinated and in Louisiana and Alabama, the percentage has been around 96% since February.
Many other warnings from America come in a new book, Populism, the Pandemic and the Media (I am a contributor and co-editor) about how the abandonment of any requirements on fairness and balance has led to a polarised media, which has in turn created a hopelessly polarised people.
Professor Philip John Davies, the internationally recognised expert on American politics notes that not only did Trump do everything he could to undermine trust in the existing media among his supporters, he also legitimised alternative providers of information spreading the Trump view of the world.
As Pew’s Journalism and Media group found, around 50% of Americans in election year got their news from “echo chambers” reflecting their existing point of view.
Davies believes such echo chambers and the destabilising of traditional media favour the Republican party going forward, and that connecting to clicks from influencers will remain a strong factor in contemporary American politics.
Bill Dunlop who used to run the American arm of the European Broadcasting Union believes that everything from the legislative agenda to security in the streets and voter suppression are still being influenced by Trump in exile.
“Like it or not , the media are still talking about Donald Trump today- and they will be for years to come,” warns Dunlop.
Although the UK is not the US, a similar vein of populism with a disdain for facts or the truth is well imbedded here.
The only solution, if there is one, is much more vigilant journalism than we have seen generally so far.
It would also be a good idea to keep a watch on what Nigel Farage gets up to and the direction of travel at GB News.