Bad news week: Is Angelos Frangopoulos running an “outrage factory” at GB News?

Former Sky News Australia boss dealing with channel turmoil in a tough week for many, especially for Ava Evans

September started promisingly for the still-fledgling London-based news channel GB News. The numbers for its performance in August showed continued growth across the various platforms it broadcasts to. In mid-September, the channel was promoting a day where it beat Sky News and BBC News Channel in the ratings.

GB News

GB News highlighting recent ratings win

There were plenty of problems brewing. But the channel’s chief executive, former Sky News Australia boss Angelos Frangopoulos, has plenty of experience putting out fires in the past couple of years.

Allegations of unacceptable behaviour continue to hang over the head of GB News primetime presenter Dan Wootton. In July, he told his audience he had made “errors of judgement”, but he denied criminality. The BBC last week reported the chair of the House of Commons media committee wrote to GB News chief executive to ask “what, if any, investigations or processes have been undertaken since the recent complaints about Mr Wootton were publicly raised”.

The GB News position was it was to “continue monitoring” the claims.

GB News v ad industry

Frangopoulos was also dealing with the fallout from the channel’s commercial director being heckled by a “hateful mob” at an ad industry function in Manchester.

GB News reported on the event and showed video of the mob:
The shameful scenes, which can be seen in the video below, at The Drum’s Roses Awards in Manchester follow a relentless campaign of online bullying by anti-free speech political activists who want GB News shut down.

So outraged was Frangopoulos that he wrote an open letter of complaint to the British ad industry. See below for letter reproduced in full.)

Fox views that led to suspension

Just this week things went really pear-shaped. This report in The Times summarised what happened:

Dan Wootton, a GB News presenter, has been suspended by the broadcaster after the comments made on his show by the actor and Reclaim Party leader Laurence Fox.
Fox was speaking on the channel’s Dan Wootton Tonight show when he called Ava Evans, the political correspondent for the news website Joe, a “little woman” and asked: “Who’d want to shag that?”
Wootton appeared to laugh at the comments when they were broadcast.

In a statement the following day GB News said:
“GB News has suspended Dan Wootton following comments made on his program by Laurence Fox last night. This follows our decision earlier today to formally suspend Mr Fox. We are conducting a full investigation.”

The channel also posted on social media:
Comments made tonight on GB News by Laurence Fox were totally unacceptable. What he said does not reflect our values and we apologise unreservedly for the comments and the offence they have caused. We have launched an investigation and will be apologising to the individual involved.

GB News has been living on the edge for some time. When Mediaweek visited Frangopoulos at the channel in London 12 months ago, he told us: “We are Ofcom regulated so we have to be impartial. We have broader viewpoints than you would get on the BBC and Sky News. We also have absolute diversity in all the voices we have on air.

“We are about having a healthy debate. That wasn’t the case when we launched as we had challenges getting Labour politicians on the channel.”

This week those claims about diversity of voices have been challenged.

Frangopoulos also told us last year: “Our primary goal was to disrupt the market and go boom. We have done that.” This week it was a sonic boom that came out of the GB News channel HQ.

The crisis that seems to be engulfing the channel was covered in detail in much of the media with headlines and commentary like:

Reducing women to meat live on air? GB News is no longer a joke: The Guardian

GB News latest: Laurence Fox says he and Dan Wootton will be fired from the station: The Independent

Ofcom investigates Dan Wootton and Laurence Fox GB News row after 7,300 complaints: BBC

UK Regulator Investigates News Channel After Sexist Rant: The New York Times

The popular British daily podcast The News Agents, co-hosted by former BBC reporters Emily Maitlis, Jon Sopel and Lewis Goodall, is never far from a media crisis. They devoted most of the top 10 podcast episodes to Russell Brand last week. On Wednesday this week, their subject was GB News.

GB News

Lewis Goodall: “This bleak moment on GB News didn’t come from nowhere. It came from a station that in every way has been pushing every TV news norm standard and rule again and again to the limit.”

Jon Sopel: “It seems to me this was a channel set up with the intention that it should be five degrees right of centre because they believe [other news channels] are five degrees left of centre. I don’t buy that. What they found out is that being five degrees right of centre doesn’t get you that many viewers. If you go 20, 40, 40 degrees right of centre, be even more outrageous and say even more controversial things, give air to all sorts of conspiracy theories, you do quite well.”

Emily Maitlis: “It is clearly finding an audience…finding a niche for itself. Is it because it is making news entertaining? Is it because it is feeding people’s needs for conspiracy? What they are doing is testing the teeth of Ofcom [UK broadcast regulator].

“I quote The FT’s Robert Shrimsley: ‘It’s an outrage factory’. It’s such a good description. It’s manufactured outrage. Outrage is how you monetise.”

See also: Future looks bright for UK media disruptor GB News tells CEO Angelos Frangopoulos

GB News Chief Executive’s open letter to the advertising industry

The Drum’s Roses Awards are an opportunity for the advertising industry to celebrate excellence in creative achievement, which is why we chose to support the event.

But last Thursday the ceremony became a lesson in hypocrisy and revealed much about the contempt some in the industry hold for true diversity.

Our Commercial Director Nicole O’Shea was shouted at and heckled as she tried to present three awards for genuine brilliance among her peers.

With mob mentality, guests fist-pumped and goaded each other to hurl more abuse, yelling “f*** off!” among other insults while making obscene gestures at her. Most were men.

The trolling and incitement began before the event, when people like Jerry Daykin (author of, ironically, Inclusive Marketing) tweeted his fury that GB News was a major sponsor of the Roses. “Stop normalising GB News,” he wrote. He was not alone.

I have to ask, when did this industry normalise this type of intimidation and humiliation towards anyone, never mind a woman in a professional setting?

While such behaviour should shame anyone who stands for inclusion and respect, this must not be dismissed as an isolated incident perpetrated by a few bad players.

Rather, it was the physical manifestation of the systemic and institutional intolerance levelled at GB News since before its launch.

Our staff have been abused and trolled; our advertisers threatened, and attempts made to sabotage us. Misinformation and conspiracy theories about us have been spread expertly and determinedly to demonise GB News as a grotesque caricature of something it is not.

Our crime? We tap into mainstream but non-metropolitan viewpoints, audiences who simply aren’t very London in their outlook. In other words, the majority of Britons.

GB News chief executive Angelos Frangopoulos inside the channel’s London HQ

While tolerance and diversity are rightly prized by the advertising industry, these values appear conditional on people agreeing with one singular, fashionable, and very metropolitan world view.

This blinkered outlook risks putting advertisers out of touch with the millions of consumers and customers who love GB News and consume the products your clients want to sell.

We know many in the advertising industry are unnerved by the bullying and cancel culture towards GB News and, vitally, our growing audience. They’ve told us confidentially, but they’re frightened to speak up in case they’re singled out for the same treatment.

We also know that some people in that room at the Roses are supportive of GB News and were upset by the outrageous bullying levelled at our female executive. As organisers, The Drum did its best.

But did anyone call it out at the time, or on social media afterwards? No, they did not. Not because they liked it, but because they feel silenced by the ever-present threat of cancel culture.

Targeting GB News has become the acceptable face of hate. In fact, you get bragging rights for virtue-signalling your contempt towards our channel and therefore, tellingly, your contempt and snobbery for our growing audience – the very consumers advertisers want to reach.

It’s disappointing that the Roses incident happened in Manchester because we find regional agencies far more open and fair-minded to the diversity of opinion that GB News offers.

It’s not surprising that regional agencies are more in tune with the non-metropolitan audiences, and no coincidence that some of our strongest audiences are in the north-west. We based our commercial leadership team in Manchester for a reason.

No one wants to fund hate, least of all me, so GB News is not hateful. I’m struck however by the irony that the most hateful discourse I encounter daily is directed towards us, not by us.

It’s time to call time on intolerance and to accept that not everyone agrees or sees the world in the same way.

In any liberal democracy, plurality of media is an overwhelmingly good thing. Few question that The Express and The Guardian co-exist in our media landscape – they are different voices for different audiences.

GB News is a different voice in British media. We are proudly here for the people, but not necessarily for media people, and that is why audiences are turning to us.

Angelos Frangopoulos
Chief Executive Officer, GB News Limited
[Letter published in July 2023]

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