BBC director-general Tim Davie has said its values of impartiality will help it withstand competition from Andrew Neil’s upcoming GB News channel and streaming shows being launched by Rupert Murdoch’s News UK.
Davie said “bring on the competition” after being asked whether he fears the new entrants, particularly GB News which plans to bring a more opinionated style to its news programming, will change the way TV news is viewed in the UK and mimic the partisanship seen in the US.
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Speaking at the BBC’s Trust in News conference on Monday, Davie pointed out that the internet has made it easier for newcomers to enter at scale into many markets, including the media.
In this context, he said: “The survival strategy and the growth strategy is to work out what you stand for and double down on it. The BBC is not going to have all of people’s media time.”
Davie added that although opinionated media has always been part of the market, particularly through national newspapers in the UK and broadcast news in the US, people have also “gone to trusted sources that are impartial”.
“I think there will always be a blend in the market… what I need to do is make sure that for the BBC we offer very good value for money and a strong brand – we stand for something differentiated.
“Now, there will be obviously good debates about where a particular presenter goes and we’ll be in battles over certain things, but the big picture is, forgive the cliché, but bring on the competition. We just need to stand for what we do.”
Davie added: “You don’t have a God-given right in any media organisation to lots of people’s time, it’s highly competitive, but I don’t think we will be solely measured on how much time is spent.” He said it is better to be measured on trust and what unique added value you bring.
“It does put pressure on all of us, but I do think we should be up for it,” he said.
GB News is preparing to launch later this year and, despite being frequently compared with right-wing Fox News in the US, has insisted it will “not be shouty, angry television” and will conform to Ofcom rules on due impartiality.
Chief executive Angelos Frangopoulos has said GB News is “committed to impartial journalism” and aims to “serve British communities who feel poorly represented by mainstream television media, especially outside London”. Many of those anticipating its launch are those who have become disillusioned with the BBC and believe it is biased or does not represent their experiences.
Meanwhile, Rupert Murdoch’s News UK, which owns the Sun, Times, Talkradio and Virgin Radio, is preparing to launch a nightly entertainment news show which will air live and on-demand on major streaming platforms, with other programming set to follow.
BBC North America editor Jon Sopel welcomed the new entrants but warned against copying “hyperpartisanship and falsehoods” found in US broadcast media which he had described as the “perfect growth environment for conspiracy theories to take hold”.
“More TV channels are coming to the UK,” he said in a later session at the BBC event. “Good – let’s see if they’re going to shake things up in the way that Rupert Murdoch’s Sky did so much a generation ago. Let’s not be afraid of strong opinions or of a different way of doing things.
“Since the Second World War, in most styles and fashions, we’ve tended to follow America. But in hyperpartisanship, and falsehood, we should very politely, and in a charming British way, say ‘thanks, but no thanks’. We’re here to challenge this information, not to promote it.”
Sopel, who hosted both sessions, also raised his concern with Davie that people increasingly seem to be confusing reporting with taking a side – citing his reports following the January attack on the Capitol in Washington as an example.
“When you have people who don’t want to hear other opinions, and you have someone like me coming on the news, as we have done on a number of occasions, and said what the President has claimed is not true, or is without foundation, they don’t regard that as a reality check,” Sopel said.
“They regard that as me taking sides. They regard that as the BBC not acting impartially, it’s being anti-Trump. Now how do we manage that so that we explain to people what we’re doing is not taking a stance we’re just standing up for something called truth?”
Davie agreed: “Without doubt, it’s getting harder to fight that fight and I think it was a compelling moment to see that election and see people like yourself standing in front of the camera being abused for simply reporting impartially and calling it as you saw it based on the facts in front of you.”
But he urged journalists to “have some faith” and say “we believe in what we do, and hold strong”.
“I think you’re touching something very profound, which is the intent ascribed to someone like yourself, and that intent is more and more and more being ascribed if you ask the tough question of a politician as having an agenda that is politicised.
“In simple terms, we probably need to be much more overt about what our intent is, that’s why I’ve been very public about impartiality.”