GB News drafts in Nigel Farage to halt ratings freefall

Nigel Farage has been drafted in to help save GB News, as the new channel attempts to reverse plummeting ratings.

The former Brexit Party leader will host an hour-long primetime show from Monday to Thursday at 7pm, starting next week.

Other shows will be trimmed back in duration so he will not replace any current presenters.

"I will not be taking the knee on this show," Mr Farage tweeted.

His arrival on a permanent basis at the station comes days after the broadcaster’s director of programming reportedly quit, hours after a presenter was pulled off air for taking the knee in an anti-racism gesture. 

The row prompted fears of a viewer boycott, with Barb TV ratings showing figures had slumped to “immeasurably” low levels the next day for some of its staple shows. 

It was the latest in a string of problems to blight the broadcaster, from technical failures to low viewership, since it launched in June railing against cancel culture.

Mr Farage hinted he would be encouraging people to “look at and think about issues in different ways” and “covering stories that everybody else wants to ignore”.

He added in a statement: “We’ll take on the tough issues on the day and interview people who really understand their subject, not just some minister who is there to spout the party line. I want your opinions too.”

It is his first major broadcast venture since he parted ways with the radio station LBC last summer following a backlash over his comments about the Black Lives Matter group. 

BREAKING

Watch my new Prime Time evening show on GB News from next week.

Tune into “Farage” Mon – Thurs at 7pm.

I will not be taking the knee on this show! pic.twitter.com/1wV0H6QbXZ

— Nigel Farage (@Nigel_Farage) July 17, 2021

The Nigel Farage Show had been on air for three years and hosted a phone-in for callers to vent about political topics. 

Since then, Mr Farage, 57, rebranded the Brexit Party as Reform UK to focus on an anti-lockdown message, before announcing his retirement from politics and stepping back as its leader in March. 

He has also amassed a large following on YouTube with commentary and mini documentaries on immigration, lockdown and culture wars topics, and has made some appearances on GB News at weekends.

On Thursday, GB News reportedly suspended the presenter Guto Harri, a former adviser to Boris Johnson, for taking the knee live on-air on his show in solidarity with England footballers who have suffered racist abuse since their Euros defeat. 

Guto Harri taking the knee on GB News after the England team suffered racist abuse

Mr Harri provoked outrage from viewers when he said he had “underestimated how close to the surface the racism still was” after seeing the online abuse Marcus Rashford and other England players had received.

The station said the gesture was an “unacceptable breach of our standards”, but Mr Harri defended his actions, insisting taking the knee was “not woke and not Stalinist”.

GB News stands four square against racism in all its forms. We do not have a company line on taking the knee. Some of our guests have been in favour, some against. All are anti-racist. We have editorial standards that all GB News journalists uphold.

— GB News (@GBNEWS) July 15, 2021

Speaking on air, Mr Harri said: “I actually now get it and so much so that I think we should all take the knee. In fact, why not take the knee now and say: ‘it’s a gesture, but it’s an important gesture’.

“And it’s not about me in this studio, but for them to do that as players on the field makes sense.”

He later wrote online: “GB News is – above all – about free speech; having the debates others won’t.”

GB News said in a statement about the incident: "We let both sides of the argument down by oversimplifying a very complex issue."

Shortly after, The Guardian reported that John McAndrew, GB News’ respected director of programming, had quit after coming under pressure to focus output on culture wars topics. GB News declined to comment on the matter.

It comes after GB News chairman and presenter Andrew Neil, the outlet’s leading presenter and chairman of the channel’s board, announced he would be taking a break from GB News. 

This came just two weeks after launching the venture with an opening monologue promising to “expose the growing promotion of cancel culture”.

He later defended the channel’s rocky start, tweeting: "Start ups are fraught and fractious. @GBNEWS is no exception. But the news channel is finding its feet and has a great future. Watch this space."

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