If Britain Can’t Accept GB News, it Can’t Call Itself a Democracy
Wednesday, June 23, 2021
Johanna Ross is a journalist based in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Before GB News had even begun broadcasting last week it was lambasted by left-wing liberals for its predicted ‘anti-woke’ content. A Guardian writer gave the brand new channel no more than ‘one year tops’. The hate campaign has culminated in the (ironically named) group Stop Funding Hate pressurising companies to withdraw their adverts from the channel. Nivea, Grolsch, the Open University, Ikea and cider brand Kopparberg all agreed to this, stating that they were unaware their adverts would be featured on GB News.
Sir Andrew Neil, the veteran former BBC politics anchor, who now heads the channel, launched a scathing attack on the businesses concerned. He stated: ‘They had bowed to pressure from a fringe group called Stop Funding Hate, a misnomer if ever there was one. It’s quite remarkable that serious, important executives in well-established companies can be so easily cowed. They’ve all taken the knee to stop funding hate.’
Neil wasn’t alone in his criticism. The incident has caused outcry in government quarters also, with the Culture Minister Oliver Dowden writing in The Telegraph that such actions conflict with democratic values and that he will ‘not stand by and watch’ the values of tolerance and freedom of expression’ that previous generations fought and died for, be eroded by what he claimed was a ‘small but vocal minority’.
What’s odd however is that the Minister suggests few people are of this persuasion. In fact, the ‘vocal minority’ is much larger (the mainstream media would even have us believe liberalism is a majority view) and no doubt constitutes around 50% of the country if we look at polling. The Brexit vote in 2016 divided Britain, and the nation is still split into two camps, roughly speaking, of liberals vs conservatives; left-wing vs right-wing. Although liberal ideology has dominated media discourse for decades now, Boris Johnson has launched his war on ‘wokeism’ and ‘cancel culture’ which aims to rewind the clock to a time when being British was not something to be ashamed of. GB News has launched in sync with this, and so has been coined the ‘anti-woke’ channel.
‘Woke’, although as a word has been around for some time, only really entered our vocabulary in the past year, since the death of Afro-American George Floyd at the hands of a US police officer. The incident inspired the Black Lives Matter global protest movement in which people were urged to ‘be woke’ and become aware of racial injustice in society. The problem with this movement, as argued by some on GB news, is that it ignores the elephant in the room – the chronic problem of social injustice which has plagued British society for decades. In his opening speech when the channel went on air earlier this month, Andrew Neil said that channel wanted to promote ‘social mobility’ over ‘identity politics’.
This opinion was expressed consistently by presenters of the channel on Tuesday when discussing a new parliamentary paper which highlighted the plight of white British children in schools and their under-achievement. It was said that focus on racial inequalities in recent years had detracted from the real problem of social injustice amongst children and that the term ‘white privilege’ should not be used as it fails to recognise the many white communities in Britain who live in poverty. While this may all sound sensible for many, it should be noted that such an open, frank conversation would likely not take place on other mainstream media outlets in Britain. If it were to take place, anyone expressing these views would be heavily chastised.
GB News makes no secret that it wants to give a platform to such positions. Neil says its goal is to give a voice ‘to those that have been sidelined or silenced’ and that the channel would not be an ‘echo-chamber for the metropolitan mindset’. He said it would not be an ordinary rolling news channel like the BBC or Sky News. So far, this seems to be the case; having watched it this past week it does set itself apart from other mainstream news in that there is much more free discussion and debate, and a real attempt to bring in ordinary people from across the country into the conversation. In this way, it is much more accessible than other news channels. There have been technical glitches, and problems with sound and audio quality (as many guest interviews are recorded on their mobiles) but this amateurish aspect of it almost emphasises that it is a project driven by enthusiasm, not a corporate agenda; a project by the people, for the people.
The channel launches as US pollster Frank Luntz warns Britain, in true pandemic-speak, about the ‘virus of wokeism’ which is ‘already incubating’ on our island. In an interview with The Telegraph he says GB news is a positive thing because it challenges the current attempt to ‘politicise everything’ which will only result in division. A former advisor to several prominent Republicans and on The West Wing series, Luntz is reportedly examining the phenomena of ‘wokeism’ and ‘populism’ and the extent to which they can polarise debate. He argues ‘I think that the combination of wokeism and populism will lead you to a winter of discontent as bad as what we saw in 1979’. The analyst says they have come about because of ‘legitimate concerns’ about inequality and people’s views being ignored.
This is of course, the case, and yet the dissatisfied have always existed. The difference in the last couple of decades has been social media. It is social media alone that has given a platform to people to air their views, and spread them to a wider audience than they would have otherwise been able to. Hence the rise of populist movements, not only in Britain, but across the globe. GB News in this way, is a symptom of this trend, and a response to the inability of the corporate mainstream media agenda to reflect the lives of ordinary people. Therefore, it should be embraced as something positive. At the end of the day, it is about free speech, and if we can no longer tolerate that fundamental human right then we can no longer call ourselves a democracy.
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