GB News was launched with promises to combat “cancel culture” and defend free speech.
But the burgeoning broadcaster has been “cancelled” by its own disillusioned viewers and rocked by the reported resignation of a senior executive after a backlash against one of its presenters taking the knee on air.
Guto Harri, a former adviser to Boris Johnson when he was mayor of London, performed the gesture on Tuesday in solidarity with England football players who had faced racial abuse.
According to Barb TV ratings, the number of viewers for the channel at points the next day had slumped so low as to be “immeasurable” after viewers, claiming the channel had itself succumbed to cancel culture, pledged on social media to boycott its shows.
GB News had zero viewers in the sample group used to measure ratings at 1pm during a slot featuring business expert Liam Halligan and former Labour politician Gloria De Piero, and again at 5pm during a show presented by Simon McCoy and Alex Phillips.
By Thursday the channel, which promised to “expose… cancel culture”, had reportedly pulled the presenter off air.
And on Friday, it was reported that John McAndrew, the respected director of programming, had quit.
The Guardian reported that the second-in-command executive resigned after coming under pressure to focus the channel’s output on culture war topics.
Harri defended his actions in the face of the apparent viewer boycott, telling The Telegraph that he had “said his piece on air” and claiming that taking the knee was “not woke and not Stalinist”.
Harri provoked outrage from viewers when he said he had “underestimated how close to the surface the racism still was” after seeing the online abuse Marcus Rashford and other England players had received.
Speaking on air he said: “I actually now get it and so much so that I think we should all take the knee. In fact, why not take the knee now and say: ‘it’s a gesture, but it’s an important gesture’.
“And it’s not about me in this studio, but for them to do that as players on the field makes sense.”
He later wrote online: “GB News is – above all – about free speech; having the debates others won’t.
“English footballers have made it clear that when they take the knee they are making a clear statement about rejecting racism (not endorsing the narrow divisive aims of BLM). I support them.”
In a series of tweets, GB News said that it “stands four square against racism in all its forms. We do not have a company line on taking the knee.
“Some of our guests have been in favour, some against. All are anti-racist. We have editorial standards that all GB News journalists uphold.
“On Tuesday, a contributing presenter took the knee live on air and this was an unacceptable breach of our standards.”
Harri ‘right to say and do as he sees fit’
The broadcaster’s editorial charter states that it supports “the independence of our journalism” showing “respect for opinions and those expressing them” and “the right of every individual to form and share their views”.
Harri’s right to free expression has been defended by some of his colleagues at GB News, including historian Neil Oliver, who said the presenter had the “right to say and do as he sees fit”.
The controversy is the latest in a string of problems affecting the broadcaster, which launched in June and has been criticised for its technical failures.
Andrew Neil, the outlet’s leading presenter and chairman of the channel’s board, announced he would be taking a break from GB News just two weeks after launching the venture with an opening monologue promising to “expose the growing promotion of cancel culture”.
Alastair Stewart, another GB News presenter, has broken his hip and announced he would not be hosting his show this weekend.
GB News and John McAndrew have been contacted for comment.