Emily Maitlis DID breach BBC’s impartiality rules, admits broadcaster

Emily Maitlis DID breach BBC’s impartiality rules, admits broadcaster amid fury over Newsnight host stating as fact that Dominic Cummings ‘broke lockdown rules’ during opening rant

  • BBC admitted Maitlis ‘did not meet standards of due impartiality’ on Newsnight 
  • She accused Prime Minister of ‘blind loyalty’ over row involving his chief adviser
  • She said Dominic Cummings  ‘broke the rules’ for trip from London to Durham 
  • Issue over whether he broke lockdown restrictions is the subject of fierce debate
  • Separately, BBC has backed Laura Kuenssberg over claims she ‘defended’ him

Newsnight presenter Emily Maitlis did breach the BBC’s impartiality rules in an opening rant when she stated as fact that Dominic Cummings ‘broke lockdown rules,’ the broadcaster has admitted.

Maitlis, 49, accused Boris Johnson of ‘blind loyalty’ to his chief aide in the on-going row over Mr Cummings’ 260-mile trip from London to County Durham amid the coronavirus lockdown.  

Furious BBC viewers today called for an Ofcom investigation of due impartiality in its news output after the BBC Two programme aired last night.

The broadcaster has since admitted an introduction by Maitlis on the Mr Cummings affair did not meet its required standards of impartiality. 

A statement said: ‘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. Our staff have been reminded of the guidelines.’ 

Boris Johnson's chief political advisor Dominic Cummings arrives at Downing Street today

Boris Johnson’s chief political advisor Dominic Cummings arrives at Downing Street today

The issue over whether Mr Cummings broke any coronavirus lockdown rules has been the subject of fierce debate in recent days, with him denying any wrongdoing.

Her comments also come ahead of the conclusion of a police probe looking into complaints against him at the Durham Police and Crime Commissioner’s request.

It is Maitlis’s second impartiality row in as many months, after she was criticised in April for talking down claims that coronavirus is a ‘great leveller’ for society.

And in July 2019, she was criticised in an internal BBC investigation after some viewers complained she was ‘sneering and bullying’ towards journalist Rod Liddle.

‘Dominic Cummings broke the rules, the country can see that’ What Emily Maitlis said on Newsnight

‘Dominic Cummings broke the rules, the country can see that, and it’s shocked the government cannot.

‘The longer ministers and the Prime Minister tell us he worked with them, the more angry the response to this scandal is likely to be.

‘He was the man, remember, who always got the public mood, he tagged the lazy label of ‘elite’ on those who disagreed.

‘He should understand that public mood now. One of fury, contempt and anguish.

‘He made those who struggled to keep to the rules feel like fools, and has allowed many more to assume they can now flout them.

‘The Prime Minister knows all this, but despite the resignation of one minister, growing unease from his backbenchers, a dramatic early warning from the polls, and a deep national disquiet, Boris Johnson has chosen to ignore it.’

‘Tonight we consider what this blind loyalty tells us about the workings of Number 10.’

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Maitlis said on last night’s programme on BBC Two: ‘Dominic Cummings broke the rules, the country can see that, and it’s shocked the Government cannot.

‘The longer ministers and the Prime Minister tell us he worked with them, the more angry the response to this scandal is likely to be.

‘He was the man, remember, who always got the public mood, he tagged the lazy label of ‘elite’ on those who disagreed. 

‘He should understand that public mood now. One of fury, contempt and anguish. 

‘He made those who struggled to keep to the rules feel like fools, and has allowed many more to assume they can now flout them.

‘The Prime Minister knows all this, but despite the resignation of one minister, growing unease from his backbenchers, a dramatic early warning from the polls, and a deep national disquiet, Boris Johnson has chosen to ignore it.

‘Tonight we consider what this blind loyalty tells us about the workings of Number 10.’

But Maitlis’s comments attracted a huge backlash on social media, with one viewer tweeting: ‘BBC bare-faced bias’.

Another wrote: ‘What a totally disgraceful speech from Emily Maitlis and the BBC Newsnight editorial team. 

‘Ofcom need to step in because the BBC are clearly breaking their own charter. This in nasty and not at all unbiased or impartial. The licence fee should be revoked, Boris Johnson.’

And a third said: ‘This is atrocious. This is a presenter’s opinion and using her position to give her viewpoint. We deserve as taxpayers to have impartial broadcasters.’ 

However, on Maitlis’s Twitter feed, she retweeted a number of positive comments about her opening speech – with one describing it as ‘savage brilliance’ and another saying she ‘tells it how it is’.

Did Dominic Cummings break the coronavirus lockdown rules? 

Here are the varying opinions on how many breaches of lockdown rules Mr Cummings committed – if any:

None: Mr Cummings said he, his wife Mary Wakefield, and their son travelled by car from London to County Durham on the night of March 27 to be near his relatives. He said with Ms Wakefield having fallen ill, and with Downing Street reporting coronavirus cases, this was the best option to secure childcare should both he and Ms Wakefield become unwell. Mr Cummings indeed reported waking up ill the next morning, and was soon said by Downing Street to have coronavirus symptoms. Because of the childcare issue, Mr Cummings insisted his move was reasonable under the ‘exceptional circumstances’ clause of the lockdown guidelines. He said the 270-mile trip was completed without a stop.

One: However, many experts said the trip was still a definite breach. Professor Jackie Cassell, deputy dean of the Brighton and Sussex Medical School, said the rules were clear: people should not leave major cities to go to second homes in rural areas. Aside from potentially spreading coronavirus, it would place an extra burden on small local hospitals if admission was needed.

Two: Some reports said that after the Cummings family’s return to London on April 13, Mr Cummings made a second visit to Durham. The Observer and the Sunday Mirror quoted an unidentified witness as saying they saw Mr Cummings walking through Houghall Woods, near his parents’ property in Durham, and commenting: ‘Aren’t the bluebells lovely?’ Mr Cummings on Monday denied this second trip, and insists photos and data on his phone disprove the reports. In any event, Downing Street regularly refused to confirm where Mr Cummings was self-isolating after news broke that he was ill. 

Another said: ‘Emily Maitlis and Newsnight should be praised. There was no bias, just good reporting, investigation, challenging and holding to account. Well done BBC and not just Radio 4 this time. Good. More please.’

Meanwhile, Tory MP Philip Davies told MailOnline: ‘It seems that the BBC, Channel 4 and Sky News long ago ended any pretence of impartial reporting and now believe their role is to indoctrinate everyone with their left-wing London centric metropolitan views. 

‘Emily Maitlis on Newsnight was a prime example of that. Ofcom seem to be asleep at the wheel and if they are not going to take action to ensure the impartiality of broadcasters then they should either make way for people who will or scrap the rules around impartiality so that there is no longer any pretence.’

Michael Fabricant, MP for Lichfield, added: ‘The BBC fought long and hard to stop Ofcom having and overview of the BBC. Now it is time for Ofcom to prove their worth. 

‘There needs to be a full inquiry into whether the BBC is reporting the news or whether it is dictating the news agenda and editorialising too presenting personal views.’

Labour MP Dawn Butler tweeted: ‘A constituent emailed complaint about Emily Maitlis bias.

‘I’m still trying to work out what they meant. This is reporting facts. Have people gotten so used to biased reporting that they now fail to recognise factual reporting? All Cummings had to say was sorry and show some regret.’   

Viewers who wish to make a complaint about a BBC programme must do so to the corporation first, and can then complain to Ofcom if unsatisfied with the response. 

Former Labour MP Kate Hoey tweeted today: ‘Understand that the BBC is being inundated with complaints about Emily Maitlis and Newsnight from last night. 

‘I have also put in a complaint and am sure many, many more will #BBCbias.’

And another said: ‘I have never complained about the BBC before but this incensed me. Putting a complaint in is easy and if anyone else is upset by this programme I recommend they do the same. 

‘Only takes a few minutes and surely our impartial news is worth five minutes of our time?’

Mr Cummings has been under fire since details of a 260-mile trip from London to the North East of England he made with his family emerged, with a string of Conservative MPs calling for his sacking. 

Last night, the scale of the Tory revolt over the row became clear as almost 40 of the party’s MPs called for him to resign, a minister quit and some warned of a ‘Black Wednesday’ crisis.

Amid growing anger from all wings of the party, Scotland Office minister Douglas Ross said he was quitting over the issue.

He said he could not defend Mr Cummings’s actions to constituents who had followed the ‘stay at home’ advice and denied themselves the chance to visit sick relatives. 

Mr Ross joined a list of at least 39 Tory MPs who by last night, had called for Mr Johnson’s most senior aide to leave Downing Street. 

BBC defends Laura Kuenssberg over tweet ‘in defence’ of Dominic Cummings over the row

The BBC has defended political editor Laura Kuenssberg after it was claimed she tweeted ‘in defence’ of Dominic Cummings over the same row.

She responded directly to Daily Mirror political editor Pippa Crerar about the story on Friday, which some critics claimed was effectively a rebuttal of the story on behalf of Mr Cummings.

Kuenssberg tweeted: ‘Source says his trip was within guidelines as Cummings went to stay with his parents so they could help with childcare while he and his wife were ill – they insist no breach of lockdown.’

The BBC received an undisclosed number of complaints over the tweet, but said she made it clear she was reporting information from a source.

A BBC spokesman said today: ‘As the BBC’s political editor, Laura Kuenssberg’s role is to provide our audiences with an impartial analysis of key political developments, based on her knowledge and expert judgment, and she often uses social media as a tool in her day to day work.

‘We don’t consider that Laura was tweeting in defence of Dominic Cummings. Laura was simply reporting information from a source, and we believe this was clearly stated in her tweet.’

The list includes four members of the executive of the backbench 1922 committee and 15 former ministers.

Many of the MPs calling for Mr Cummings’s departure told how they had received more than a thousand messages from constituents over the aide’s failure to abide by the lockdown, with warnings that party members were among the angriest.

One senior backbencher said: ‘This is not the usual suspects, it is our grassroots, our own members. If we don’t stop this now, it will be our Black Wednesday.’

Downing Street had hoped that Mr Cummings’s press conference on Monday would take the heat out of the row, but calls for him to go continued to grow as the public remained unconvinced by his explanation of his actions and refusal to apologise.  

The Prime Minister’s hopes that he had drawn a line under the crisis were shattered when Mr Ross became the first minister to quit over the row at about 9am yesterday. 

The under-secretary of state for Scotland said he could not ‘in good faith’ tell his constituents who could not say goodbye to loved ones while obeying lockdown rules that Mr Cummings had acted appropriately.

A BBC spokesman has been contacted for comment by MailOnline today. 

Ofcom’s press office has also been contacted.

Newsnight host Emily Maitlis spoke about the Dominic Cummings row on last night's show

Newsnight host Emily Maitlis spoke about the Dominic Cummings row on last night’s show

On Maitlis's Twitter feed, she retweeted a number of positive comments about her opening speech - with one describing it as 'savage brilliance' and another saying she 'tells it how it is'

On Maitlis’s Twitter feed, she retweeted a number of positive comments about her opening speech – with one describing it as ‘savage brilliance’ and another saying she ‘tells it how it is’

How Emily Maitlis began her career in the Far East and also used to work for Sky News

Emily Maitlis was born in Canada and raised in Sheffield. She began her career in news in the Far East, in the lead up to the Hong Kong Handover – and reported from Cambodia, China and the Philippines, before joining Sky News in the UK as a business correspondent.

Maitlis came to the BBC in 2001, initially as the main presenter of the revamped BBC London News, before joining Newsnight. She became the programme’s political editor in 2012, briefly, before moving into full time presenting for Newsnight and working on much of its US political coverage.

Alongside the BBC Two programme she has a primary role in covering the US, UK and European elections for the BBC. She has made documentaries for BBC Two, on Donald Trump, Nicolas Sarkozy, Mark Zuckerberg and, for Radio 4, on Madonna.

In March last year it was announced that she would be the new Newsnight presenter. She also writes regularly for UK newspapers and magazines.

Maitlis was widely praised for her sensational interview with Prince Andrew last year over his friendship with the late paedophile Jeffrey Epstein, which led to him stepping down from royal duties.

Section 4.1 of the BBC’s editorial guidelines states: ‘The BBC is committed to achieving due impartiality in all its output. This commitment is fundamental to our reputation, our values and the trust of audiences. 

‘The term ‘due’ means that the impartiality must be adequate and appropriate to the output, taking account of the subject and nature of the content, the likely audience expectation and any signposting that may influence that expectation.’ 

It comes after the BBC’s Panorama  investigation into government provision of PPE kit for NHS staff earlier this month has sparked 793 complaints over alleged bias.

The flagship current affairs programme featured interviews with a string of medical workers who were also Left-wing activists.

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden wrote to BBC director general Tony Hall with his concerns about this and another incident, asking the TV chief to ‘uphold the highest standards in relation to integrity and impartiality’.

A number of doctors and nurses that Panorama decided to interview were long-time supporters of the Labour Party, but the programme was accused of giving the impression that they were neutral healthcare workers.

The programme, titled Has The Government Failed The NHS?, made a series of damaging claims about the Government’s handling of the Covid-19 crisis.T he BBC has previously defended the programme and those it interviewed.

How Emily Maitlis has a track record of impartiality rows at the BBC

Emily Maitlis has been involved in a number of impartiality rows in recent months, including where she has criticised her own employers. Here are some of the recent examples:

April 2020 – Criticises claims virus is a ‘great leveller’ for society

Maitlis hit out at claims that coronavirus is a ‘great leveller’ for society as she said the poorest Britons are less likely to survive the pandemic.

She claimed on BBC Two that those most at risk of catching the infection are in low-paid jobs such as bus drivers, nurses and care home workers.

Matt Kilcoyne of the Adam Smith Institute claimed her comments breached impartiality guidelines, but her speech received widespread praise online.

July 2019 – Claims Rod Liddle’s columns contain ‘casual racism’

Maitlis was criticised in an internal BBC investigation after some viewers complained she was ‘sneering and bullying’ towards journalist Rod Liddle.

The executive complaints unit at the corporation determined that she had been too ‘persistent and personal’ during the Brexit debate on BBC Two.

The incident, where she said his columns contained ‘casual racism’, left her open to claims she had ‘failed to be even-handed’, their report said.

September 2019 – Slams BBC over Naga Munchetty complaint

Maitlis said the BBC’s move to uphold a complaint against Naga Munchetty for calling out Donald Trump over racism looked ‘massively out of touch’.

She gave her full support to Munchetty, who had condemned the President’s call for four Democratic congresswomen to go back to their own countries.

The executive complaints Unit found against Munchetty over her remarks in an on-air discussion with her BBC Breakfast colleague Dan Walker last July.

She told the Cliveden Literary Festival: ‘My worry is that the complaints body looks as if it’s massively out of touch with what’s happening in the real world.’

Maitlis made the comments last September, before BBC director general Lord Hall reversed the decision to uphold the complaint two days later, saying: ‘Racism is racism and the BBC is not impartial on the topic’.

Ms Munchetty had said: ‘Every time I have been told, as a woman of colour, to go back to where I came from, that was embedded in racism.’

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