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Brexit Got You Down? Sky News’ Brexit-Free Channel Offers Relief

Bloomberg logo Bloomberg 10/18/2019 Andrew Davis

(Bloomberg) -- Sky News is offering Brexit-weary Brits an escape from the three-year drama over the country’s divorce from the European Union -- a new Brexit-free news channel.

For five hours nightly, Sky is broadcasting news on a “pop-up” channel with no stories about the process to quit the trading bloc that have dominated U.K. airwaves and newspaper front pages since the June 2016 vote to abandon the EU. The channel -- which signed on as the Oct. 31 exit deadline intensified debate -- will go head-to-head with broadcasts from competitors like the BBC and ITV and end before Sky’s main evening show at 10 p.m.

Many in the U.K. have become “weary” of the Brexit story, said John Ryley, head of Sky News, a division of U.S.-based Comcast Corp.

“I feel in a sense that it is suffocating out other news,” he said in an interview. “We can devote 10, 12, 13 minutes of a half-hour television broadcast to Brexit and our viewers sometimes need a break from it.”

The saturation coverage has contributed to stratifying the divide between “leavers” and “remainers” since the referendum and contributed to the fall of two prime ministers. Mental health officials have linked Brexit to a rise in mood disorders, insomnia and stress, and advised the public to limit their intake of Brexit news.

Profound Anger

The anger has become more profound since the 51.9% to 48.1% vote to leave the EU, said Antonis Kousoulis, director of England and Wales at the Mental Health Foundation.

“It started with a lot of anger and denial from people who wanted to remain, and now we have a lot of anger from people who wanted to leave because it hasn’t been achieved,” he said in an interview. “So now no one is satisfied.”

A poll by YouGov for the foundation found that in the past year about 40% of U.K. adults said Brexit made them feel powerless, angry or worried. One in 10 attributed sleep disorders to Brexit stress, with about twice that number experiencing Brexit-related anxiety. That number rises to 30% in London, the epicenter of tension over Brexit where six in 10 voted to remain.

The foundation issued a series of recommendations for coping with Brexit anxiety, including limiting news intake. That report says “it may be a good idea” to turn off news notifications on your phone and restrict news consumption to reading a morning paper or watching a single evening news broadcast.

Read more: Brexit Ad Campaign May Boost ITV, JCDecaux

The Sky News: Brexit-Free channel is “an interesting idea,” Kousoulis said. “A complete news blackout is rarely helpful, but this is an extra channel that will still give you news and information and give you a break from Brexit.”

A previous Sky pop-up channel on the environment, started in 2017, was linked to the EU Our Ocean Conference and remained on the air for a week. The current effort could be more enduring.

Even if Prime Minister Boris Johnson gets his divorce deal passed by Parliament and the U.K. meets the current deadline, there will likely by years of coverage of the fallout as the U.K. negotiates new trade deals after more than 46 years of EU membership. That could keep Brexit stress levels high and channel 523 on the air for some time to come.

A quick look at the response on Social media to Sky’s Oct. 15 announcement of the channel shows a flood of posts loaded with the partisan vitriol that the Brexit-free channel is trying to offer a respite from. Many were from pro-Brexit viewers lambasting Sky for perceived remainer-bias in its coverage. Still, some like Philip Keeler an ambulance control room operator from Sussex, appreciated the effort.

--With assistance from Jessica Shankleman and Pete Norman.

To contact the reporter on this story: Andrew Davis in London at abdavis@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Matthew G. Miller at mmiller144@bloomberg.net, Steve Geimann

For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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