STEPHEN GLOVER: Will the BBC rue the day it drove Andrew Neil away?

STEPHEN GLOVER: Andrew Neil was mistreated by the BBC to the point of humiliation. Will the Beeb rue the day it drove Neil into the arms of a rival news channel?

Will the BBC rue the day it drove Andrew Neil – by widespread agreement Auntie’s most forensic and best informed political interviewer – into the arms of a fledgling rival news channel?

That is what many will ask following the announcement that Mr Neil is to be chairman of GB News, a new channel that hopes to launch in the first quarter of next year. He will also host its flagship evening programme.

Of course, GB News, which expects to reach almost all British households, would have launched anyway. Its lead investor is Discovery, a multinational media behemoth based in New York and a big player. But with Mr Neil on board it will pack an extra punch.

Why the Beeb chose to mistreat its star interviewer to the point of humiliation remains a mystery. It’s true it has never properly valued him, giving him programmes at odd times of the day and night outside peak time while lesser journalists were cossetted and feted – and offered prime slots.

Will the BBC rue the day it drove Andrew Neil – by widespread agreement Auntie’s most forensic and best informed political interviewer – into the arms of a fledgling rival news channel?

Mr Neil’s ‘crime’ in the eyes of some Corporation executives was not to be of the Left. Indeed, he once worked in a senior capacity for media mogul Rupert Murdoch, a hated figure at the BBC, though the two men are no longer close.

Even so, the axing of his daytime show, not long after his weekly nightly programme had been killed off, was breathtakingly brutal. For weeks, no one at the BBC bothered to tell him what was going on. Incoming director-general Tim Davie recently attempted to mend fences, but Mr Neil had had enough.

The question is whether GB News will represent any threat to the all-powerful BBC, which with its multiple television channels and radio stations is by far the country’s biggest supplier of news.

According to some estimates, Auntie provides over half the news the public receives. She may protest until the cows come home that this news is delivered in a fair and balanced way, but many millions of people believe otherwise, and discern a leftish, metropolitan bias.

I suspect that, as a single channel with limited resources, GB News will be too small to deliver a knock-out blow to the BBC, although it is aiming to produce a significant output of some 18 hours every day.

That is what many will ask following the announcement that Mr Neil (pictured with his wife Susan Nilsson) is to be chairman of GB News, a new channel that hopes to launch in the first quarter of next year

But its impending launch nonetheless marks an upheaval in British broadcasting. Whilst it will have to operate within impartiality rules policed by media regulator Ofcom, GB News will give vent to a wider range of views on the centre-Right than are to be found at the BBC.

The model appears to be radio stations such as LBC and Talk Radio, where opinionated presenters (occasionally on the Left) stimulate lively informed debate and discussion.

This recipe, rather than the rolling news provided by outlets such as Sky, will constitute the bulk of the new channel’s content.

Mr Neil’s enemies on the Left will doubtless accuse him of fronting a British version of Fox News, an American news channel which leans raucously to the Right and makes no pretence of objectivity.

GB News may adopt a similar format but I’d be surprised if its political prejudices were the same as Fox’s – and not only because of the constraints of Ofcom. Though undoubtedly of the Right, Mr Neil is no rabid ideologue. As a BBC interviewer, he was as tough on Tories as on Labour.

More unapologetically Right-wing is the news channel reportedly being contemplated by Rupert Murdoch’s News UK, though that too would have to observe Ofcom’s rules. Unless, of course, the Government changes them.

A revolution is underway. Cracks are appearing in the monolithic BBC. Its dominance – and its values – are being challenged. For those who cherish liberty and greater choice, this is both welcome and overdue.

Andrew Neil will lead new rolling news channel to rival BBC and Sky aiming to reach those who feel ‘underserved and unheard’ by the media 

Andrew Neil will lead new 24-hour news channel to rival BBC and Sky aiming to reach those who feel ‘underserved and unheard’ by the media.  

The broadcaster will be the face and chairman of GB News, signalling the end of his relationship with the BBC, where he has been one of the most respected political interviewers.

Plans are in place for ‘Britain’s news channel’, aimed at those who feel ‘underserved and unheard by their media’, to launch early next year.

The channel could shake up the TV news landscape, currently dominated by Sky News and BBC News.

As well as being appointed chairman, broadcaster and former Sunday Times editor Neil, 71, will host a flagship evening programme in primetime.

This will lead the programming line-up.

He said: ‘GB News is the most exciting thing to happen in British television news for more than 20 years.

‘We will champion robust, balanced debate and a range of perspectives on the issues that affect everyone in the UK, not just those living in the London area.’

Neil, best known for The Andrew Neil Show, as well as This Week and Daily Politics on the BBC, added: ‘We’ve seen a huge gap in the market for a new form of television news.

‘GB News is aimed at the vast number of British people who feel underserved and unheard by their media.’

The BBC confirmed this summer that Neil’s self-titled show would not return to TV screens after it came off air during the pandemic.

It said at the time it was in discussions about a new interview series with Neil.

Political interviewer and publisher Neil recently dismissed speculation that he was in the running to be the next BBC chairman, saying on Twitter that he has ‘no interest in the job’.

At a time when the BBC and commercial media companies are cutting jobs, GB News said it hopes to create at least 120 positions.

They include more than 100 journalists in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland with the channel. 

Global media and entertainment company Discovery, Inc is the lead investor.

GB News will feature more than 6,500 hours of content a year, made exclusively for the channel, which has secured broadcasting licences from Ofcom.

It has been founded by media executives Andrew Cole and Mark Schneider.

They said: ‘Andrew Neil epitomises what GB News is all about.

‘He’s an exceptional journalist, brilliant interviewer and fearlessly independent.’

They plan for the channel to reach 96% of British television households via Freeview, Sky and Virgin Media.

The BBC confirmed this summer that Neil’s self-titled show would not return to TV screens after it came off air during the pandemic

GB News will broadcast seven days a week across the UK and Ireland and will be available globally on GB News digital platforms.

Sky launched a 24-hour news channel in 1989 and the BBC followed, in the UK, in 1997.

Former Sky News executive editor John McAndrew will be director of news and programming and ex-Sky News Australia chief executive Angelos Frangopoulos has been appointed chief executive officer.

GB News said that more announcements will be made in the coming weeks. 

The BBC has thanked Andrew Neil for his work at the corporation following the news he will be the face and chairman of GB News.

A statement said: ‘We’d like to give our heartfelt thanks to Andrew for his many years of work for the BBC, during which he’s informed and entertained millions of viewers. 

‘We wish Andrew every success in his new role; we’re sorry the US election coverage will be his last BBC presentation work for the foreseeable future but he will always be welcome at the BBC.’ 

From the ‘Empty Chair’ to Owen Jones: Some of Andrew Neil’s ‘greatest hits’ at the BBC

Andrew Neil explains why he wants to interview Boris Johnson prior to the election

The ‘Empty Chair’: Neil vs Boris Johnson, December 2019

Mr Neil delivered a direct interview challenge to Boris Johnson during the 2019 General Election, telling him it was ‘not too late’ to accept his invitation to chat before the poll.

Mr Johnson had refused to be interviewed by Mr Neil, who had spoken with Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn and the Lib Dems’ Jo Swinson.

During an ’empty chair’ moment,Mr Neil said: ‘There is of course still one to be done, Boris Johnson. We have been asking him for weeks now to give us a date, a time, a venue. As of now, none has been forthcoming.’ 

‘It is not too late. We have an interview prepared. Oven-ready, as Mr Johnson likes to say. The theme running through our questions is trust – and why at so many times in his career, in politics and journalism, critics and sometimes even those close to him have deemed him to be untrustworthy. 

‘It is, of course, relevant to what he is promising us all now.’

Neil vs Ben Shapiro: May 2019

Mr Neil clashed with US conservative commentator Ben Shapiro on the BBC’s Politics Live last year.

Mr Shapiro was subjected to a tough interview by Mr Neil about previous remarks he had made, including ‘Israelis like to build, Arabs like to bomb crap’ and his support for new abortion laws in Georgia.

The American, formerly of Breitbart, then accused Mr Neil of bias and suggested abortions after more than six weeks of pregnancy were brutal.

‘You purport to be an objective journalist,’ Mr Shapiro said. ‘The BBC purports to be an objective, down-the-middle network. It obviously is not, it never has been, and you as a journalist are proceeding to call one side of the political aisle ignorant, barbaric and sending us back to the dark ages.’

Mr Shapiro later said that he had been ‘destroyed’ by Mr Neil in the interview.

Neil vs Owen Jones: January 2019 

Mr Neil and commentator Owen Jones clashed in a row during the broadcast of the This Week programme.

The row began after Mr Jones made a film about far-Right protesters who harassed him and other journalists.

During the debate, Mr Jones raised Mr Neil’s work outside his role at the BBC as chairman of the Press Holdings media group which publishes the weekly magazine The Spectator.

As the debate drew to a close Mr Jones claimed the editorial line of The Spectator and other papers legitimised some far-Right views, provoking an angry response from Mr Neil.

Mr Neil told Mr Jones: ‘Your smears and lies about me are not going to be dealt with tonight so just move off it.’ 

Neil vs Paris jihadists: November 2015

Mr Neil delivered a rousing speech against the Paris attackers who ‘slaughtered 132 innocents to prove the future belongs to them, rather than a civilisation like France’. 

In his rousing message, he listed the artists and theorists who shaped French culture and who overshadow ISIS’s beliefs and acts.

‘I can’t say I fancy their chances. France. The country of Descartes, Monet, Sartre Rousseau to Camus, Renoir, Berlioz, Daft Punk, Zizou Zidane,’ he said. ‘Liberté, égalité, fraternité and crème Brulee.

‘Versus what? Beheadings, crucifixions, amputations, slavery, mass murder, medieval squalor and a death cult barbarity that would shame the Middle Ages.’

He then thundered: ‘I think the outcome is pretty clear to everyone but you. You will lose. In a thousand year’s time, Paris, that glorious city of lights, will still be shining bright as will every other city like it. And you will be as dust, along with the ragbag of fascist Nazis and Stalinists that previously dared to challenge democracy and failed.’ 

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