|Piers Morgan and Andrew Neil (Image: iNews)|
The concept of 'fake news' isn't new. Tabloids for instance have notoriously made up stories, or at least altered facts in part to boost its readership - in doing so, tarnishing reputations of not just the subjects of these untrue reports, but of media titles too. And when editors were desperate for anything supposedly newsworthy on their front page, they'd resort to hacking phones of innocent people in the public eye, which ultimately led to the demise of the 'News of the World' newspaper almost ten years ago.
The closure of 'News of the World' seems a lifetime ago now, but I remember it vividly, completing a journalism degree at the time. But if I was doing the same degree today, I could only imagine phone hacking be a minor talking point in comparison to the how news is consumed and reported today (and in the future), which is making me fear about an industry I care deeply about.
When 'fake news' on social media was put as a significant factor for Donald Trump's US Presidential election victory in 2016, I didn't really want to believe it. In my naive mind, I believed people saw beyond that and actually saw the sources of the information they were consuming online before concluding what was right or wrong. Then, once these discredited news sources were being followed, the likes of CNN and BBC were being slammed for either showing non-existent bias, or not standing up to those they're meant to represent.
Despite this, I recognise the rise in, what I'm calling 'opinion news reporting', certainly not to be confused with column writing. In the US, you see it with Fox and its undeniable bias towards the Republicans. Even CNN is seen as a liberal network by mainstream sources. British broadcasters have prided themselves in avoiding these tags for decades. However, we've seen this pride drift further away in recent years. LBC, Channel 4, ITV, and yes, occasionally the BBC, are increasingly offering opinionated news reports, with media titles choosing the facts they like and use social media, above all outlets, to prove their points.
I feel, and fear, that opinions from mainstream news sources are being forced upon us on social media, as a way of making themselves relevant and as a tactic to defeat 'fake news'. On LBC, we have presenters who are strongly and unashamedly aligned to an opinion and state their points rather than present the news. The likes of James O'Brien, sitting MPs and Andrew Pierce (who uses 'Tory Boy' as his Twitter account name) aren't "Leading Britain's Conversation" as LBC claims, they're leading debates, basing arguments they like which their employers would then share online with headlines which consists of how presenters are 'laying' or 'tears into' the government or their callers for offering differing points of view.
ITV headed down that route for a while with Piers Morgan using Good Morning Britain as a platform to share his thoughts on subjects he knows will get people on Twitter talking. The masses were supposedly in awe of how he held government to account over its handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, and had divided opinion about his thoughts on Harry and Meghan. He resigned as anchor of the popular breakfast show because a fellow broadcaster, Alex Beresford, used his platform to passionately argue against Morgan's claims.
Even with the BBC, individual presenters are often accused of bias. Emily Maitlis had been a target on a number of occasions; whether it's retweeting an opinion by - funnily enough - Piers Morgan, her approach to the US election coverage, or her opening monologue about Dominic Cummings on Newsnight. And on my Twitter newsfeed, I often find Ros Atkins, who presents 'Outside Source' on BBC News make 'no-nonsense' points on air.
All the names I mention above, make no mistake, are exceptional broadcasters, but the editorial decisions to ensure they present somewhat opinionated news stories are puzzling, and the worst may yet come with the impending launch of GB News, a new news channel which promises those 'left out and unheard' have their voice while challenging the 'increasingly woke media establishment'. The outlet, due to launch later this year, has already appointed big name reporters and broadcasters including Dan Wootton, Julia Hartley-Brewer, Michelle Dewberry, Simon McCoy and most recently, Alastair Stewart. Andrew Neil, former Sunday Times editor and Sky News chairman, will lead the pack.
McCoy and Stewart aside, I'm rather nervous about the other appointments. I wouldn't be able to tell you McCoy's political views because he doesn't make them known. He's a proper news anchor with great integrity, and doesn't force any of his opinions down our throats. The others have very high profile views on stories that make a difference to how our society is run, which I can only imagine they'd want to use their new platform for - by proving their points with the facts they like and make sure those on social media are listening and admiring.
I accept if these broadcasters came together for a weekly debate programme, but this is an entire news channel we're talking about here. The future of journalism is in their hands, and in my eyes, consists of heavy-handed yet supposedly trendy opinion, which will only polarise an already divided nation further.
I am, however, an admirer of Andrew Neil's career and work. I think his BBC shows such as The Week were terrific and indeed provided balanced views from experts in their field. I also followed his career during my degree as my dissertation was partly about Sky, which he helped launch more than 30 years ago. My hope therefore is that GB News will offer what he's done all his working life - provide unbiased news broadcasts and a genuine alternative to BBC and Sky. My hope is that he proves me wrong, and that his appointments will solely present the news rather than their blunt thoughts.
At the moment, independent news broadcasting is becoming a rarity and it'll come to a point that only Channel 5 will provide me with pure news on TV while BBC Radio 5 Live for radio. Give me Sian Williams, Dermot Murnaghan and Nicky Campbell type of journalism any day.