LONDON – Affected by declining ratings, upheaval in the on-air ranks and a multi-billion dollar defamation case related to its election coverage, Fox News stumbles out of the Trump era – accused by many of the toxic political culture that spawned an act of violence, to have sown mob in the halls of the United States Capitol.
Yet in the UK, where television news is regulated to avoid political prejudice, Rupert Murdoch and a competing group of investors are seizing this moment to create two new news services that challenge the BBC and other broadcasters by standing heavily on Mr. Murdoch’s Borrow a Fox playbook.
If the timing seems strange to a few saucy, right-wing news outlets, given Fox’s recent troubles in the US, it’s no less strange in the UK. After the country finally left the European Union, its bitter political divisions over Brexit have been pushed aside, at least for the time being, by the cruel ordeal of the coronavirus pandemic.
Although these companies are competitive, they share Murdoch DNA.
Mr Murdoch’s less ambitious participant hopes to use what his executives see as a void in the UK market for edgy comments and personality programs. The competing company – GB News, which has various backers but is studded with veterans of the Murdoch empire – charges that there is an audience for a channel that rejects what it sees as the BBC’s left-wing political correctness.
“The UK news show is pretty much a one-party state,” said Andrew Neil, GB News chairman and host of a prime-time show. “They all come to stories of different shades from the left.”
Recognition…Jonathan Brady / PA Images, via Getty Images
Such remarks caused alarm bells for some British commentators. While Britain has long had a free-running, blatantly partisan newspaper industry, critics say the last thing it needs after Brexit is a Fox-like news network – one that will sow further divisions and open the door to the conspiracy theories cultivated by President Donald could be J. Trump and stepped up by Fox.
“Imagine if you are the country that has watched the past four years in the US, whose bloodlines are so easily traced back to Fox’s sensitivity, and yet you think: let’s have a little of it,” wrote Marina Hyde , a columnist on the left -Leaning Guardian newspaper. “Because of course we are.”
Last week, critics launched an online campaign to pressure cellular operators, banks and other advertisers to boycott GB News.
“I would love to have @bt_uk seriously consider the implications of promoting such a potentially dangerous channel,” wrote Carol Wilkie of North Yorkshire in a typical tweet.
Mr Neil hit back on what he called the “bright warriors” and indicated that they were trying to cancel a channel that had not yet aired a single program. GB News, he said, would cover issues from the “center, maybe the center right” – not Fox’s hard right approach. His shows will feature different voices and stick to the facts, he stressed. Unlike Fox or the BBC, GB News will not broadcast rolling coverage.
Neil is a combative broadcaster who hosted a prime-time talk show on the BBC until last year. He is famous for his forensic interrogation of politicians. Prime Minister Boris Johnson declined to appear on the show during the 2019 election, drawing that he was afraid of Neil.
“You can’t bring Fox News into this market and give it a British accent,” said Neil, who once worked for Mr. Murdoch as editor of the Sunday Times of London. “It just doesn’t work.”
Mr. Murdoch actually brought Fox to the UK with unfortunate results. The Broadcasting Authority reprimanded it in 2017 for violating impartiality standards twice: Sean Hannity’s coverage of Trump’s ban on people from Muslim-majority countries and Tucker Carlson’s coverage of a terrorist attack in Manchester.
Sky dropped the channel that same year, quoting its small audience.
Executives at Mr. Murdoch’s company known as News UK TV declined to be interviewed. But they also play down comparisons with Fox in their private lives. Unlike GB News, which is an old-fashioned broadcast channel, Mr. Murdoch is planning a lower-cost streaming service, similar to Netflix or Now TV, to take advantage of this growing market.
The service, slated to begin with an unremarkable rollout in April, will advertise Mr Murdoch’s stable of UK media properties, from The Sun, a mass market tabloid, and The Times, an upscale broadsheet, to Talk Radio, which has deals on Rush Limbaugh-esque comment. Everything tilted to the right.
News UK TV will also skip breaking news and feature shows with politically judgmental voices. But it turns up the brighter side in its advertising. The first show to be announced, News to Me, will be hosted by Gordon Smart, a Scottish-born rock music lover who worked for The Sun.
89-year-old Murdoch, who had been sheltered from the pandemic at his 18th-century Oxfordshire estate for much of last year, recruited David Rhodes, a former vice president of Fox News and president of CBS News, to start the service.
Mr. Rhodes, whose younger brother Benjamin J. Rhodes was a senior adviser to President Barack Obama, was in a brisk talent war with GB News to lure brands like Piers Morgan.
News UK TV was granted a broadcast license and executives said the program would stay within the government’s “guard rails”. However, critics of Australian-born Mr. Murdoch said he stepped into other markets, including Australia, with similar assurances, only to make the channels more politically extreme over time.
“Murdoch will say anything and do anything to get regulatory approval and then in practice do the opposite,” said Kevin Rudd, former Australian Prime Minister and outspoken critic of Murdoch, in an interview.
“He followed that formula on the letter in Australia,” said Mr Rudd. “It will be the same formula that he will be using in the UK.”
Critics also worry about how rigorously the UK regulator Ofcom will enforce the rules on impartiality. Mr Johnson should consider Paul Dacre as the next chairman. As the longtime editor of The Daily Mail, Mr Dacre is a staunch Brexiteer with a history of opposing restrictions on journalists.
Recognition…Justin Tallis / Agence France-Presse – Getty Images
Stewart Purvis, a former broadcaster who oversaw content and standards at Ofcom, also said: “The British commitment to impartiality is in large part based on guesswork. It is not a simultaneous determination. “Broadcasters are allowed to” give opinions based on sound knowledge, “he said, provided there is a rough balance between left and right.
Even if these new services are right-leaning, some journalists say there’s little to worry about as long as they avoid spreading false news – allegations that led an election technology company, Smartmatic, to file a 2, Filing $ 7 billion against Fox and three anchors. Maria Bartiromo, Lou Dobbs and Jeanine Pirro.
“It is at least plausible to argue that the BBC is viewed as institutionally left of center,” said Simon Jenkins, columnist for The Guardian. “So it is plausible to say that there is room for something that is to the right of center.”
The BBC’s reputation suffered during Brexit. Critics said he had given too much time to those who spoke out against leaving the European Union. But it has recovered during the pandemic, and its 24/7 coverage is helping to unite the country.
Politically, right-wing news could also have missed its moment. After Mr Johnson won a landslide victory, his Conservative allies launched a campaign to strip the BBC of its public funding. But the health crisis has taken a lot of the air from these efforts.
“These ventures were always planned for a time when the BBC’s hold on the news agenda would have been relaxed, if not diminished,” said Claire Enders, a London-based media analyst. “Things have changed radically.”
Once the pandemic recedes, some media experts predict the culture war battles that divided the British during Brexit will resurface. When immigration and populism become less resonant, new storms will break out over topics like “woke up” culture, a term Neil used in defense of GB News.
GB News recently raised £ 60 million, or $ 83 million, from a Dubai-based investment firm, Legatum, and a pro-Brexit hedge fund manager, Paul Marshall. The American cable giant Discovery is one of the other supporters.
“We see politics of resentment, which is often fueled by older white men who are right-wing,” said Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, director of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at Oxford University. He added, “It is a market that is already well served in print and online.”
Mr Murdoch seems to be aware of these realities. After his time in the UK during the pandemic, media officials say he has shifted his focus to the US, where he is busy fixing Fox’s issues.
“Fox News did well in the US because it is commercially successful,” said Douglas McCabe, a London-based media analyst. “For News UK to be politically and culturally influential it has to be commercially successful, and in the UK that is a tougher task.”