As Fox News struggles at home, Murdoch brings its playbook to the UK
LONDON — Beset by declining ratings, upheaval in its on-air ranks and a multibillion-dollar defamation suit related to its election coverage, Fox News is staggering out of the Trump era — blamed by many for seeding the poisonous political culture that brought a violent mob into the halls of the United States Capitol.
Yet in Britain, where television news is regulated to avoid political bias, Rupert Murdoch and a competing group of investors are seizing this moment to create two upstart news services that will challenge the BBC and other broadcasters by borrowing heavily from Mr. Murdoch’s Fox playbook.
If the timing for a pair of brash, right-wing news outlets seems strange given Fox’s recent travails in the United States, it is no less odd in Britain. With the country finally out of the European Union, its bitter political divisions over Brexit have been pushed aside, at least for now, by the grim ordeal of the coronavirus pandemic.
Though these ventures are in competition, they share Murdoch DNA.
Mr. Murdoch’s entrant, the less ambitious of the two, hopes to exploit what its executives see as a gap in the British market for edgy commentary and personality-driven programs. The rival venture — GB News, which has different backers but is stocked with veterans of the Murdoch empire — calculates there is an audience for a channel that rejects what it views as the left-leaning political correctness of the BBC.
“British news broadcasting is pretty much a one-party state,” said Andrew Neil, who is the chairman of GB News and will host a prime-time show. “They all come at stories from various shades of left.”
Pronouncements like that set off alarm bells for some British commentators. While Britain has long had a freewheeling, unabashedly partisan newspaper industry, critics say the last thing it needs after Brexit is a Fox-like news channel — one that could sow further divisions and open the door to the kinds of conspiracy theories nurtured by President Donald J. Trump, and amplified by Fox.
“Imagine being the country that has watched the last four years unfold in the U.S., with its bloodlines so easily traceable to the Fox sensibility, and is nonetheless thinking: let’s have a bit of that,” wrote Marina Hyde, a columnist at the left-leaning Guardian newspaper. “Because that’s us, of course.”
Last week, critics began an online campaign to pressure cellular carriers, banks and other advertisers to boycott GB News.
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