GB News has had an unsurprisingly controversial opening two weeks. The first UK broadcaster to explicitly have a political angle, the brand new channel has been dubbed – by detractors and supporters alike – as the British version of Fox News.
Over the past fortnight, there have been lighter gaffes, like the myriad technical difficulties and many mischievous pranksters making their way on air, but there have also been some more troublesome controversies too.
While many are focusing on moments like the interview where Lady Colin Campbell appeared to defend the deceased sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, or a presenter thinking a weaponised computer virus was a physical disease – there has been less discussion of the harmful views being aired about climate change.
Broadcasting climate sceptics
The channel has interviewed two people so far who are associated with the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), a deceptively named lobbying group that promotes climate scepticism.
Matt Ridley, a viscount and member of the House of Lords, appeared on the channel to discuss carbon emissions as an adviser to the GWPF. Ridley is a strong proponent of fracking and owns land in England’s North East where Shotton Surface coal mine is operated – for which he is paid.
Ridley used the platform to claim our high levels of carbon dioxide emissions are “greening” the earth, which is “a common trope that is often used to play down the seriousness of climate change,” notes Rich Collett-White, deputy editor of DeSmog in an article analysing the channel’s environmental coverage.
Collett-White also commented on the channel’s choice to invite GWPF director Andrew Montford.
“Montford [spoke] about the allegedly growing risk of power outages in the shift to net-zero emissions, only to be met with a black screen, as Montford’s own connection appeared to fail,” writes Collett-White, “you really couldn’t make it up.”
One of the biggest blows to the channel so far has been the number of companies who have withdrawn their advertising, with many sharing their concerns over GB News’s content on social media.
Vodafone, IKEA, Kopparbergs Brewery, Nivea, Specsavers, Grolsch, and Pinterest have all stopped airing commercials on the channel. Perhaps unsurprisingly, green energy supplier Octopus Energy was also among the brands to withdraw from the GB News ad space.
However, the channel isn’t solely funded by commercials. It also has several high profile investors – mostly from outside the United Kingdom – providing millions in financial backing.
Among these backers is the Dubai-based investment group Legatum. Legatum’s founder, the New Zealand-born Christopher Chandler, also helped create and still funds the Legatum Institute, a London-based think-tank with some controversial connections.
According to an investigation by Byline Times, the Legatum Institute “has direct ties to the Koch network” including “the Koch-funded climate science denial group, the Heartland Group.”
A recent report by Greenpeace found that the Koch Family Foundations spent upwards of €120 million between 1997-2018 financing projects, causes and groups which attack climate science.
Why does this matter?
While GB News brands itself as a platform for encouraging “opinion and debate”, it’s arguable that presenting climate science as something open for debate is potentially problematic.
“It is actively dangerous for them to be platforming climate change deniers,” says environmental scientist Sara Thomson.
There are political points where it is important to show both sides of the conversation and present alternative perspectives – but when it comes to climate change, quite often the ‘other side’ is often just conspiracy theories.
“I have views that differ from other people over things like taxation, for example, and I think it’s great to have a balanced debate on that,” explains Thomson, “but climate change is science. You can’t debate facts with financially motivated fiction.”
Anti-science articles dismissing the realities of climate change have been a problem for a while now, particularly with the rise of social media, but platforms like Facebook have begun to label this type of content as untrue.
Since the launch of GB News, Ofcom – the UK’s broadcast regulator – has already received hundreds of complaints about a single broadcast from presenter Dan Wootton. It is therefore likely that Ofcom may have its work cut out if the channel continues to broadcast climate science scepticism at the current rate.