Emily Maitlis misses Newsnight after BBC criticises Cummings row coverage
Emily Maitlis did not present Wednesday’s episode of Newsnight after the BBC ruled the programme breached impartiality rules over its coverage of the Dominic Cummings lockdown row.
In her introduction to Tuesday’s show, she said the Prime Minister’s chief adviser had “broken the rules” and “the country can see that, and it’s shocked the Government cannot”.
The BBC said while Maitlis had been scheduled to present the next edition of the programme, Katie Razzall would take her place. She did not address the controversy during the programme.
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The PA news agency understands the BBC did not prevent Maitlis from presenting Wednesday’s programme.
In the Newsnight opening, Maitlis said: “The longer ministers and the Prime Minister tell us he worked within [the rules], the more angry the response to this scandal is likely to be.
“He was the man, remember, who always got the public mood, who tagged the lazy label of elite on those who disagreed.
“He should understand that public mood now – one of fury, contempt and anguish.”
Newsnight editor Esme Wren said on Twitter Maitlis had not been “replaced tonight in response to the BBC statement” and the programme’s staff “work as a team throughout”.
Razzall also said her fellow presenter had “not been asked by the BBC to take tonight off”, adding she “certainly wouldn’t have agreed to present the show” if she thought that was the case.
The National Union of Journalists criticised the BBC over its handling of the row.
General secretary Michelle Stanistreet said: “At a time of national crisis, frank and fearless journalism that scrutinises and holds this Government to account is more necessary than ever.”
She said it was “clear as day” that Mr Cummings breached lockdown rules, adding: “Journalists should be congratulated for holding policymakers to account for actions that risk a monumental breach of trust during a public health crisis.”
The BBC said on Wednesday staff had been “reminded of the guidelines” around impartiality following the broadcast, adding that the corporation must “uphold the highest standards of due impartiality in its news output”.
It added: “We’ve reviewed the entirety of last night’s Newsnight, including the opening section, and while we believe the programme contained fair, reasonable and rigorous journalism, we feel that we should have done more to make clear the introduction was a summary of the questions we would examine, with all the accompanying evidence, in the rest of the programme.
“As it was, we believe the introduction we broadcast did not meet our standards of due impartiality.”
Good Morning Britain presenter Piers Morgan branded the BBC statement “utterly disgraceful”, saying the BBC was “chucking one of its best journalists under the bus for telling the truth”.
His words were echoed by journalist and former Newsnight economics editor Paul Mason, who said the decision made him “sick”.
He tweeted: “Every word Maitlis said was true: truth is the criterion of real journalism.”
Conservative MP Julian Knight, who chairs the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, said the broadcaster had responded rapidly to the incident.
He tweeted: “For the BBC to come out, in such terms, so quickly is really something, no circling of the wagons – issuing what is effectively a written warning.”
The programme’s introduction was criticised by Chris Green, the Conservative MP for Bolton West, who said on Twitter it “had a clear bias and had nothing to do with the BBC’s mission to inform and educate”.
He added: “We do not need Newsnight to behave as poor quality entertainment.”
The Newsnight coverage centred on a trip by Mr Cummings from London to Durham during the lockdown. The aide insists he acted “reasonably and legally”.
Last year, the BBC became embroiled in an impartiality row over on-air comments made by BBC Breakfast presenter Naga Munchetty about Donald Trump and racism.
Ms Munchetty was previously judged to have breached BBC editorial guidelines when she discussed remarks made by Mr Trump after he told female Democrats to “go back” to their own countries.
The ruling was later reviewed and reversed by the corporation’s director-general Lord Tony Hall.