Talkradio breakfast presenter Julia Hartley-Brewer has claimed the BBC and Sky News opened the door to GB News by providing a lack of “alternative” viewpoints.
GB News has caused alarm as it is widely expected to lean to the right politically, with many expressing concern that it will be a UK version of Rupert Murdoch’s highly opinionated Fox News channel in the US.
Speaking on a panel about broadcast regulation for Voice of the Listener and Viewer’s spring conference on Thursday, Hartley-Brewer said: “…we have not had impartiality on our TV screens for an awfully long time and I think that’s one of the reasons why an opening has been made for alternatives, whether it’s online, whether it’s on mainstream broadcast news.”
She pointed in particular to the BBC and Sky News, saying the debate about impartiality had been “really hard hit” by the way many people working in the media share the same views. She said this had led to them thinking anti-lockdown or Boris Johnson supporters held “extreme, beyond the pale views, despite the fact a lot of his opinions are quite mainstream”.
“I do think that there is an opening that’s been provided by the BBC, Sky and others, they literally opened the door and said come on in and take our viewers, which other organisations are doing.”
Hartley-Brewer said the “crucial thing” going forward would be to ensure there is always a clear separation between fact and comment from presenters as they share the news.
She defended her own past and present employers LBC and Talkradio against the “complete nonsense” criticism that they only share the singular view of their presenters, saying they hear alternative opinions from guests or callers which makes it “makes it much better or more interesting listening”.
“But crucially It’s about the subjects you cover – it’s not just a presenter or a guest giving you a viewpoint,” she added. “It’s about whether you think climate change is the number one issue every single sodding day, whether you think it’s race issues, diversity, minor trans or feminist issues are the main issues facing the British people every day.”
BBC director-general Tim Davie made impartiality one of his four priorities when he took up the post in September and said journalists have to be “really proactive” as “activists for impartiality”.
Ofcom’s latest news consumption survey, published in August last year, found 58% of people rated the BBC highly for impartiality and Sky News was scored 69%. Of ITN’s programmes, 61% rated Channel 5 highly, 63% said ITV was an impartial news source and 66% said the same for Channel 4.
Others on the panel said they were concerned GB News could mimic Sky News Australia, which Business Insider reported last year has quickly grown its digital audience by “focusing on producing highly partisan opinion content”.
Former ITN editor-in-chief and Ofcom partner for content and standards Stewart Purvis CBE told the panel: “Under the ownership of News or Rupert Murdoch it has become a version of Fox News but even more out there so you actually have presenters making really, really personal attacks on politicians, and those of us who know Australian politics know it’s pretty brutal at the best of times.
“And so I think that’s the model to be fearing rather than a discursive debate model for which actually Newsnight and Channel 4 News are already doing some of that.”
Professor Stephen Cushion of the Cardiff University School of Journalism, Media and Culture agreed, saying GB News could lead to a subtle shift over a period of up to 15 years.
“At the moment there is quite a strong professional ethos amongst journalists about maintaining impartiality but if over time that kind of opinion-led journalism becomes normalised I worry that commitment among the next generation of journalists will diminish,” he said.
“I think once that happens it’s quite hard to apply stricter impartiality rules because the genie is out of the bottle.”