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The hunger grows for ‘opinionated news’ in the UK

The UK’s broadcast news media landscape has changed greatly since the turn of the century, and the transformation is set to accelerate drastically in the coming years with the arrival of new outlets that promise to bring controversy, outrage and adoration in equal measure.

The UK has some of the most comprehensive media laws regarding accuracy and impartiality, meaning that on-air radio and TV presenters must deliver news and analysis with due impartiality, other than when it is made clear that any opinions being offered are that of individuals and not to be confused with the delivery of ‘news’. This means current affairs coverage must be not presented though the lens of a particular viewpoint.

Quite the opposite situation exists in the United States. Despite all news channels priding themselves on self-described ‘fair’ reporting, it is nonetheless clear that broadcast news in the USA is shrouded in partisan motivations, with no impartiality regulations.

The dominant charge against the American media is that this creates an echo-chamber style of news consumption, whereby people only tune into outlets that share their values, which go on to reinforce their stance through one-sided reporting, and the cycle continues.

America is not without top class journalists and journalism. Far from it, in fact. However, networks such as MSNBC and CNN are understood to be run by people of a liberal persuasion, whereas Fox News is firmly on the right. This results in news being presented to audiences within the context of the opinions of those on-air, arguably damaging people’s abilities to make their own mind up about political events.

The counter argument to that is…it’s popular. Very popular. People love to hear well-articulated voices making arguments they agree with; on a human level it makes them feel confident in their own mind and, quite frankly, two people having an argument will always be more interesting than two people agreeing.

Media moguls in the UK have come to the realisation that not only is this kind of journalism a gold mine financially, but it has a huge potential to impact political discourse and wider society.

In the coming months, GB News and News UK TV will be arriving on our screens. The former, chaired by former-BBC big beast Andrew Neil (who will host a prime-time show) is promising to be an alternative space for diverse opinions that are not represented in ‘mainstream news’. Some fear the latter, owned and funded by Rupert Murdoch, will mirror the abrasive style of the also Murdoch-owned Fox News.

GB News will be focussed around strong ‘on-air talent’, and feature news-based programmes with unique formats, rather than the ‘rolling news’ model that is provided well by the BBC and Sky News.

The two new channels will, however, be subject to the same impartiality rules as any other. One might wonder, therefore, how the (so far) right-leaning line up for GB News – including former Brexit Party MEP Alex Philips and right wing commentator Tom Harwood– will maintain “committed to impartial journalism”, as Neil has promised.

A number of UK outlets that put opinion at the forefront of their delivery have already achieved this by balancing the strongly opinionated right-wing views of its presenters with others at a different time who hold opposing opinions. LBC, TalkRADIO and Good Morning Britain (GMB) have arguably achieved this best: pushing Ofcom’s (the UK’s media regulator) limits by having listeners switch on and not know whether they’ll hear the voice of Nigel Farage or James O’Brien.  

Piers Morgan’s storming off the set of GMB following a debate about Meghan Markle and Prince Harry – which resulted in Morgan’s departure from the show and Ofcom launching of an investigation – attracted widespread attention (both positive and negative), with the show receiving a record 1.29 million viewers on Tuesday alone. This is but an indicator of a growing appetite for ‘opinionated news’ in the UK.

It is yet to be seen what the impact of these new channels will be. One thing is certain, though: whilst there will likely always be a place for impartial reporting by the BBC, ITV, Sky and others, they will soon have to compete with a growing counterforce in the UK media, whereby people will find themselves wanting not to just hear news, but to hear news that entertains and makes them feel good.

Image: Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson, via Flickr