Emily Maitlis has said the BBC was wrong to accuse her of breaching impartiality laws – and accused the broadcaster of caving in to political pressure from Downing Street.
Last May, the Newsnight presenter opened the show with a monologue which stated “Dominic Cummings broke the rules” after the former chief adviser to Boris Johnson’s controversial Barnard Castle trip at the height of lockdown.
“The country can see that, and it’s shocked the government cannot,” she added.
The BBC swiftly issued a statement saying the introduction “did not meet our standards of due impartiality” – an allegation Maitlis has since rejected.
‘The call from Downing Street came in’
Asked if she regretted the incident, Maitlis told Press Gazette: No, I don’t. It hasn’t ever been explained to me what was journalistically inaccurate about that.”
“The call from Downing Street came in, and within a four-hour window an apology was given,” she said.
“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 points scoring.”
‘We’re in trouble’
Maitlis was rebuked for a second time after she retweeted a Piers Morgan tweet which read: “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?”
Addressing that controversy, she 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.
“It’s funny to see something like [the Cummings apology] 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 interview has not gone well with the BBC. A spokesperson for the corporation told MailOnline newspaper: “Nothing is more important than our impartiality. All BBC journalists must abide by the BBC’s editorial guidelines and social media rules. There are no exceptions. We will be taking this up with Emily.”
‘We’re not a public announcement tannoy’
Maitlis also said Jess Brammer – a contender to oversee the BBC’s news channels – a “terrific journalist”, amid reports that ex-Theresa May adviser Robbie Gibb sought to block her appointment due to Brammer’s editorship of HuffPost UK, which has been critical of the government.
Maitlis said: “I know that nothing will matter more to the BBC than its editorial independence – and making its decisions without fear or favour. So I’m sure they’ll do the right thing.”
“I just think the whole country has a vested interest in the BBC being independent-minded and confident and operating without fear or favour. And I’m sure people within the BBC feel that just as strongly.”
“That’s what we do on Newsnight. We analyse. We interrogate. We investigate. We’re not a public announcement tannoy. That’s not our job.”