An interesting piece published by the Telegraph a month ago:
The Right-leaning TV network is facing a boycott before a second of footage has aired. What are liberals so afraid of?
Hatred is a complicated thing. History shows us it can be used to fuel transformative change (for good or for evil), every good chick flick shows us that it can often be mistaken for obsession (and eventually passion). Jane Austen, in Pride and Prejudice, taught us that it can often be subjective. “Your defect is a propensity to hate everybody,” Elizabeth Bennet tells Mr Darcy. “And yours,” he replied, “is wilfully to misunderstand them.”
There’s more than a whiff of Austenian snottiness in the most recent debate about hate and its dangers. Seemingly tired of berating readers of the Daily Mail, the campaign group Stop Funding Hate (SFH) has told its followers to contact businesses demanding that they refuse to advertise on the new and yet-to-go-live news station, GB News.
The new station boasts Andrew Neil as its chairman (and prime presenter) alongside Dan Wootton from the Sun. Comparisons have been made between it and Fox News (contrary to popular opinion it’s not funded by Rupert Murdoch – he has his own thing going on) while some have taken issue with the fact that one of its key funders – Sir Paul Marshall – was a Brexit supporter. (The channel’s main backer is actually the US-based Discovery, a factual entertainment behemoth not exactly know for courting controversy.)
Given the channel hasn’t hit the airwaves yet, the only credible comparison between it and Fox News is the format – Neil has announced that it will feature “programming built around strong presenters, which becomes an appointment to view” rather than the rolling-news style of BBC or Sky News. But since when does anyone wait to see the show before they slate it these days?
In a column used by SFH as an example of the alleged hatefulness of GB News, Marina Hyde warned of the danger that right-wing news channels can conjure up. “Imagine being the country that is RIGHT NOW deciding to get in on the bonkers newsotainment game,” she cried, alluding to the Capitol riots at the start of this year. ‘There will be those wondering after the era-defining events in Washington this week if this is quite the moment for the UK to start chasing this particular Fox’.
Putting aside Hyde’s rather low view of how publics interact with news (seemingly forgetting that Biden won, not Trump, despite Fox News remaining on air), the most troublesome point argued by Guardian journalists and SFH activists alike is about impartiality. Hyde called GB News an “anti-impartiality news channel”, a claim which was strongly refuted by Neil who wrote a letter in reply to the article which the Guardian refused to publish (so much for a commitment to an unbiased representation of the news).
SFH is gleefully circulating a headline from Neil arguing that GB News won’t be “woke” alongside a dictionary definition of woke as “well-informed and up-to-date”. Perhaps such groups should look up impartiality while they’re there – treating political rivals fairly has fallen out of fashion on most news channels these days.
From Jon Snow picking and choosing which white people to have a pop at to Piers Morgan yelling at anyone who disagrees with him and from Kay Burley’s failed snubs at Tory ministers to the BBC’s propensity to indulge in Remoaner grief, impartiality is on the ropes. SFH goes after the tabloids for hateful content, but has never criticised papers like the New Statesman for its columnist’s hateful depiction of working-class Brexiteers as “the frightened, parochial lizard-brain of Britain”.
More often than not, a commitment to free speech, open debate and hearing all sides of the argument is silenced by an obsession with clamping down on hate speech – a term that encompasses everything from bad-tempered criticism to racial slurs.
From boycotts of films to the cancellation of book deals, it’s fashionable today to judge something on the basis of characterisations and stereotypes. Most sensible people will wait until GB News airs to see whether or not it lives up to the hype of Neil’s promise to be “a tonic to the old order and a breath of freshness that genuinely adds plurality and new voices to British media”. But more poisonous and dangerous than a few right-wing loud mouths on the telly is the normalisation of press censorship in the name of defeating hatred.
SFH’s rather grotesque bourgeois desire to convince its middle-class campaigners to leverage their buying power by pressuring big business is about controlling the narrative as much as claims that Fox News pushes its viewers to take direct action. The only difference is that SFH thinks its hatred of alternative viewpoints is justified.
If everyone who was ever offended by a political view or a ‘hateful’ bit of news complained, Ofcom would be swamped. There is a difference between a news channel with integrity and commitment to truth-telling, and one which broadcasts the equivalent of clickbait. The people who get to decide which is which are the viewers – or newspaper readers – who can choose to switch off or switch over.
More diversity on television is a good thing – that includes diversity of thought. I’d rather be exposed to all opinions – even if they’re hateful – than have big business backed by Elizabeth-Bennett-esque holier-than-thou campaigners decide what I can and cannot read, or watch. SFH is merely wielding capitalism as a moral force to silence the press.
Who knows whether Neil’s new project will be any good? But one thing is immediately clear – if Britain’s liberal media can’t handle a bit of competition in the form of GB News, they have a big problem.
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