Spring this year will see a new competitor to the BBC, SKY and all the rest of them: GB News, chaired by Andrew Neil. It has been forecast by many, including The Guardian, to be the British equivalent of Fox News. This has been rejected by GB News chiefs, who claim that it has a commitment to impartiality. However, the announcements so far of its all-male politics team are hardly an exercise in diversity of opinion: Tom Harwood is the latest announcement, formerly of the now right-wing website Guido Fawkes.
Alligator Neil, an avid protester of the woke orthodoxy, is a hulking figure in the world of broadcasting. However, the credit he gets is often undeserved: he declared those opposing a hopeless military campaign in Afghanistan as ‘wimps with no will to fight’ (no desire to murder civilians, how dare they?). He rejects the scientific consensus on climate change.
Granted, his forensic questioning of politicians is impressive, but he would do well to turn that interrogation to the twisted thinking that comes out of the flab of skin he calls a face.
GB News promises to provide a right-leaning, polarising political commentary. If it is anything like his Spectator, it will be a hotbed of conspiracy theories and pure speculation justified by pseudoscience. It will be a refuge from those who want freedom from thinking, and having their own views challenged. GB News will fan the flames of the polarised political environment we find ourselves in. Everything now seems divided into a battle between ‘woke’ and Tory in an endless, useless culture war.
This polarisation is endemic in our hyper-connected, digitised age. America particularly, but Britain too, has seen the rejection of a ‘fact-based worldview’. This is not as new as people think: Karl Rove, a senior member of the Bush White House, famously lambasted the ‘reality-based community’ in 2004. And with the Trump presidency, and his decrying of ‘fake news’ and propagation of ‘alternative facts’, we have seen this trend accelerate. ‘Impartial’ broadcasters such as the BBC are more important than ever, and it is an institution the UK should be proud of.
By no means is the BBC perfect: it often fails to hold those in power to account, has a revolving door with the Conservative Party, is lacking in truly investigative journalism, and needs to start paying men and women equally. However, the damage of a lack of an impartial broadcaster can be seen most clearly in America: The Capitol Hill riots have shown how irreparably damaged their phallocratic plutocracy is. In this way we can see that the BBC needs to be strengthened and reformed, but it is perhaps most in danger now. Paul Dacre, a militant BBC critic, is set to become the next Ofcom chief – the body that regulates the BBC. Boris Johnson, Neil, and others who hate ‘woke warriors’ see the ‘PC’ BBC as a punching bag in their confected culture wars.
Humans make decisions based on what is meaningful to them, and what this is decided emotionally. Broadcasters who tap into this – and make news emotional – are often wildly successful, and dangerously corrosive to ‘the middle ground’.
This is what GB News looks set to do. It is also how the digital algorithms that control what we see on Facebook and Twitter work: in this sense, they reward polarisation. The trend we see now, a battle between ‘woke’ and Tory, is a fight between two very narrow worldviews. We must bring back meaningful dialogue. It is the very basis of democracy: to destroy it is self-immolation.
Image: Wikimedia Commons