When GB News launched the sets looked dim and the channel’s prospects even gloomier.
It seemed like only a matter of time before News Corp-backed rival TalkTV would either gobble up or destroy the independent start-up. Now, two and a half years on, GB News is racing up the ratings and the rumour mill is asking whether Lachlan Murdoch will pull the plug on TalkTV.
I visited the new GB News Westminster studio on Parliament Square to meet the presenters of its newest programme PMQs Live: political editor Christopher Hope and former Labour MP Gloria De Piero.
They revealed why GB News is striking a chord with viewers and why they risked their reputations to join it.
De Piero, who has been with the channel since launch, admitted that the early days did look rather grim.
She said: “Those first few months were incredibly difficult and not just technically – people were openly laughing at us. There were points where unless I personally rang up a Labour politician and and begged them to come on the channel it was going nowhere. I can’t remember the last time I had to make one of those calls.”
Senior Labour politicians are now frequent guests at the GB News studios, with leader Keir Starmer giving an exclusive interview to Hope just before Christmas.
Gloria De Piero: I liked ‘idea of anti-establishment channel’
Why did the pair both risk their reputations by joining the channel (given the fear many in the UK have about an opinionated, right of centre news broadcaster)?
Hope, who left The Telegraph after 20 years to join GB News in August, said: “What I love about it is that it is political news for people. So much political news is about other journalists, it’s done for the spads [political special advisers] – it’s not done for people out there who experience the news.”
De Piero said she was attracted to the “idea of an anti-establishment channel” and one that appealed to working class voters, like voters in her ex-constituency, the former mining town of Ashfield, who she said have felt ignored.
She dismissed the idea that GB News could ever be anything like Fox News in the US, because it chose to be on terrestrial TV and regulated by Ofcom. She noted that it could have opted to be online-only.
The pair’s new show, which debuted this week, provides explanation and analysis of PMQs from the hosts as well as from two guest politicians. It also encourages viewers to send in the questions they would have liked to ask the PM. It runs from 11.55am to 1pm every Wednesday.
Despite the contrasting backgrounds of the two presenters, they say they won’t necessarily be opposing each other politically on the show.
Hope said he has not revealed how he votes but it should not be assumed he is a Conservative voter. De Piero said it is no secret that she supports Labour, but her broadcast journalism background (starting out at the BBC) means she strives to be fair and impartial.
Christopher Hope: GB News is ‘rooted in the viewers’
At a time when many publishers are seeing their audience decline, GB News is on the up. What is it doing right?
Hope said: “I think we absolutely are rooted in the viewers. I think that the content is aimed squarely at the people who want to watch it.
“So much of other broadcasting, as far as I can see, is aimed at what they think people should be thinking. We’re a start-up: we can’t take the viewers for granted.”
He said this was reflected in the GB News choice of stories, with more focus on the small boats crisis than he said is seen at other broadcasters – or from the major political parties.
De Piero added: “People want a debate and discussion, they don’t just want somebody to say ‘this is what happened today and now back to the studio’.”
Before GB News had broadcast its first second, campaign group Stop Funding Hate was urging advertisers to boycott it and sought to shut the channel down.
The group, which has 125,000 followers on Twitter, still regularly posts clips from GB News and urges named advertisers to stop spending money with it.
Asked what she makes of the boycott, De Piero said: “Viewers, readers and listeners determine whether or not a channel or a newspaper survives – not any of the corporate interests.”
Hope added: “I think it’s crazy because people have amazing loyalty to the channel and there is a huge audience out there that is not seeing these products. I don’t know why this is being accepted by the companies. I think we are serving an audience that is completely not being served.”
Email email@example.com to point out mistakes, provide story tips or send in a letter for publication on our "Letters Page" blog