Now Andrew Neil has left GB News, I’m selflessly volunteering to replace him | Hussein Kesvani

Neil was an analogue artefact struggling to break through in an online world

So it’s farewell to Andrew Neil. While the former chairman and lead presenter of GB News had decades of print and television experience, it was clear from the start of his latest venture that he was an analogue artefact struggling to break through in an extremely online world. GB News was attempting to take the boundless anger and energy of rightwing posting and turn it into television. But Neil, to put it bluntly, is not a poster.

Despite the former BBC heavyweight’s assurances that the channel would not “slavishly follow the existing news agenda”, and would cover all areas of the country with the fairness and compassion to “reflect the views and values of our United Kingdom”, it seems that Neil’s attempt to revolutionise British broadcasting has fallen flat on its face. This may be because GB News was chasing an audience that doesn’t really exist – trying to combine traditional elements of prestige news (BBC veterans, experienced TV producers) with the furious viral pace of online woke-bashing. The hated metropolitan elite – also known as Neil’s friends and colleagues – lost interest pretty quickly when it was clear not many people were watching. But the audience for rightwing rage-posting doesn’t necessarily want an old-fashioned TV channel, especially one that can’t keep pace with the rapid cycles of increasingly unhinged conversation on YouTube and Twitter.

Rumours of Neil’s departure had been circulating since his sudden decision to go on a three-month holiday less than a fortnight after the channel’s launch. Perhaps, like many of us who work in media, he was experiencing burnout, and went to the south of France to practise mindfulness. Neil, for his part, would do well to frame his departure as a personal decision – he was more interested in managing his media properties and grilling politicians than in sitting through three separate segments about whether the word “curry” is offensive, or listening to furious monologues declaring that “The Tiger Who Came to Tea has been cancelled”.

The real reason for Neil’s exit is simple. What made him a fixture in elite media circles – namely, his proximity to the rich and the powerful and the way he embodied a bygone era of print dominance – doesn’t count for much among an audience that would rather listen to Joe Rogan (or his dozens of YouTube imitators) than the BBC’s Brexitcast.

Indeed, even the channel is increasingly aware of where its audience is, and what they actually want. Only a couple of months ago, one member of the team described it as a “digital media business that has a TV channel attached”. Meanwhile, anyone who spends more than a few hours a day online will see how GB News’ recent output is less like a news organisation – were GB News reporters sitting through council meetings or poring over court records to break local stories? – than a visualisation of Twitter’s trending topics.

This also explains why GB News’ seemingly most popular correspondents aren’t journalists or big broadcast names, but commentators who came to the channel with sizeable online followings, or, in the case of Woke Watch host Andrew Doyle, a brand built around a fictional Twitter persona. Moreover, while GB News’ TV viewing figures are low, its online footprint is more impressive, reaching nearly 8 million people a day on Twitter, and racking up hundreds of thousands, and sometimes millions of views on TikTok and Facebook.

What does this tell us? For a start, the age of the dispassionate, authoritative voice surmising the mood of the nation is over. Second, while being on TV still confers a kind of prestige and reach, it doesn’t do much to attract new audiences – who have become accustomed to the feeling of participating in the day’s many online outrages, liking and retweeting and reposting the latest half-true “cancel culture” shock. And third, any broadcaster who wants to survive in the age of YouTube shows, Twitch streams and longform podcasts – all of which exist readily on the smaller screen that is in front of people’s TVs, in their hands – will have to learn how to cater to a constantly plugged-in audience.

As someone who spends close to 14 hours a day online and hosts not one, but two podcasts about being addicted to the internet – I am delighted to offer my services to the undoubtedly panicked GB News investors as Neil’s replacement. In fact, please consider this article my cover letter for the vacant post. Unlike Neil, I am willing to put in the extra hours to chase the truly important stories that the woke mainstream media is ignoring: how anime is feminising young working-class men and whether the social justice warriors at Adobe will ever be brought to justice for cancelling Flash Player. As chairman, I would also introduce a broader range of viewing for the audience – not just commentary shows, but proper British TV: shows such as Dudes Rock, about the unique oppressions faced by divorced dads in family court, The Tarmac Review, a show about Britain’s most beloved roads, and a documentary series fronted by Michael Portillo, revealing that the pyramids were, in fact, built by the Victorians.

Under my tenure, GB News will do more than report the national stories others ignore, it will also lay out a vision for what Britain could be: a place where you can smoke on live TV without being cancelled by the Leninists at Ofcom, where we don’t “do Britain down” by examining its institutions or history too closely, and above all, a place where the Tiger will always be welcome for tea – along with an imperially measured pint.

  • Hussein Kesvani is a journalist who writes on digital culture and politics. He co-hosts Human Error on BBC Sounds


Hussein Kesvani

The GuardianTramp

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