A BBC presenter has rejected the corporation’s admonishment for failing to adhere to their impartiality guidelines.
Emily Maitlis, the host of the BBC programme Newsnight, attacked the BBC in an interview after they had given the presenter a telling-off for breaking their impartiality guidelines. Ms Maitlis claimed that the Government had been involved in influencing the BBC’s response to her comments and that they had never explained what she had done wrong.
The presenter was judged by the BBC to have broken their impartiality guidelines on two separate occasions. The first time she had been reprimanded was following the media hounding launched against the former Chief Advisor to the Prime Minister, Dominic Cummings, after his infamous trip to Barnard Castle during lockdown. The monologue was deemed to have been opinion-led rather than impartial.
Her second breach of impartiality allegedly involved Ms Maitlis retweeting Piers Morgan’s criticsm of the Government when he said: “If failing to quarantine properly is punishable by 10yrs in prison, what is the punishment for failing to properly protect the country from a pandemic?”
In an interview with PressGazette, the Newsnight host said that she did not regret her comments about Cummings. She said: “It hasn’t ever been explained to me what was journalistically inaccurate about that.”
She continued by criticising the BBC over prioritising her comments on Cummings while delaying investigations into the scandal of Martin Bashir, which shook the BBC earlier this year. She said: “It’s funny to see something like [the Cummings apology statement] happen so quickly when a corporation can take up to three decades to investigate serious journalistic malfeasance and critical management failings in the Bashir investigation. So I think it’s all a question of priority, really, isn’t it?”
The presenter also claimed that Downing Street was behind the BBC’s reaction to her comments on Cummings. She claimed: “The call from Downing Street came in, and within a four-hour window an apology was given.
“I think, whilst you always welcome critical friends or constructive criticism, one of the oldest journalistic questions is: Cui bono? Who stands to gain?
“And I think one of the most important things we can do is say, ‘Where are those accusations coming from?’
“If people shout ‘fake news’, or if they shout ‘no impartiality’, you look and you see if it’s coming from someone with the programme’s best interests at heart. Or, is it somebody who is driving their own agenda?
“And I think it pays to be particularly curious and particularly dispassionate about these things, because otherwise we lose something really important – which is editorial independence.
“If it’s coming from a spin doctor at No 10, or if it’s coming from a rival in the media, or if it’s coming from somewhere that perhaps wants to make its own point and shut down others, then I don’t think we’d call that impartiality. We’d call that agenda-driven point-scoring.”
On the issue of the Piers Morgan retweet, Ms Maitlis said:
“The tweet said nothing I haven’t actually asked on air. These are questions that we ask all the time as journalists on the programme. And if we stop doing that, then I think we’re in trouble. Because our audience can say to us: ‘What are you about? What are you for?’”