Emily Maitlis says BBC rebuke over her Dominic Cummings Newsnight monologue made no sense

‘Why had the BBC immediately and publicly sought to confirm the government spokesman’s opinion, without any kind of due process?’ former ‘Newsnight’ host said

Peony Hirwani
Thursday 25 August 2022 07:15 BST
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Emily Maitlis sums up nation’s mood over Dominic Cummings in Newsnight intro

Emily Maitlis has said that the reproach she received from BBC bosses over her 2020 on-air monologue about Dominic Cummings “makes no sense”.

In her much-scrutinised introduction on 26 May 2020, the former Newsnight host said Cummings, then Boris Johnson’s chief adviser, had “broken the rules” and added: “The country can see that and it’s shocked the government cannot.”

In response, a BBC spokesman said at the time: “The BBC places the highest value on due impartiality and accuracy and we apply these principles to our reporting on all issues.

“As we have made clear previously in relation to Newsnight we did not take action as a result of any pressure from Number 10 or government and to suggest otherwise is wrong. The BBC found the programme breached its editorial standards and that decision still stands.”

On Wednesday (24 August), during a speech at the Edinburgh Television Festival, Maitlis spoke about this incident, saying: “Why had the BBC immediately and publicly sought to confirm the government spokesman’s opinion, without any kind of due process?

“It makes no sense for an organisation that is, admirably, famously rigorous about procedure – unless it was perhaps sending a message of reassurance directly to the government itself?”

She added: “Put this in the context of the BBC board, where another active agent of the Conservative party – former Downing Street spin doctor and former adviser to BBC rival GB News – now sits, acting as the arbiter of BBC impartiality.”

Emily Maitlis’ Newsnight monologue about Dominic Cummings
Emily Maitlis’ Newsnight monologue about Dominic Cummings (BBC)

In her speech, Maitlis also claimed that the BBC “sought to pacify” Number 10 by issuing a swift apology for her Newsnight monologue about Cummings, as she said the programme’s introduction received “way more attention than in truth it ever deserved”.

Maitlis said the programme initially “passed off with a few pleasant texts from BBC editors and frankly little else”.

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“It was only the next morning that the wheels fell off. A phone call of complaint was made from Downing Street to the BBC News management,” she said.

“This – for context – is not unusual. It wasn’t unusual in the Blair days – far from it – in the Brown days, in the Cameron days. What I’m saying is it’s normal for government spin doctors to vocalise their displeasure to journalists.

“What was not foreseen was the speed with which the BBC sought to pacify the complainant. Within hours, a very public apology was made, the programme was accused of a failure of impartiality, the recording disappeared from the iPlayer, and there were paparazzi outside my front door.”

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