Emily Maitlis' Cummings speech condemned by BBC boss as 'newspaper op-ed piece'

Emily Maitlis’ Dominic Cummings monologue on Newsnight has been condemned by BBC’s head of news, Fran Unsworth, who argued the speech belonged ‘more on the op-ed page in a newspaper’. 

The blistering introduction to the Tuesday May 26 edition of the show sparked almost 24,000 complaints to the BBC, but was also wildly praised by audiences and the likes of Piers Morgan, Susanna Reid and Stacey Dooley. 

Maitlis opened the programme on BBC Two by saying Mr. Cummings had ‘broken the rules’ and ‘the country can see that, and it’s shocked the Government cannot’ after Boris Johnson’s chief advisor made the journey from London to Durham while the country was in peak lockdown. 

Unsworth has now defended the decision that Maitlis’ words did not meet the BBCs standards of impartiality. 

‘Just because the majority of opinion is on side, and I absolutely accept they were, and that, as I say, was evidenced by the programme, it was the language with which the intro was phrased, which I felt basically belonged more on the op-ed page in a newspaper than it did as the intro to an impartial broadcast programme, she said. 

Unsworth added: ‘I just want to say though that I think that Newsnight has had an absolutely brilliant journalistic run over this pandemic, and have really been on the stories.’

Following the episode, the BBC addressed the backlash in a statement, which said: ‘The BBC must uphold the highest standards of due impartiality in its news output. 

‘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.’ 

Maitlis pulled out of the following episode of Newsnight during the storm, but assured she ‘asked for the night off’ with presenter Katie Razall replacing her. 

Responding to the criticism, Maitlis tweeted at the time: ‘So grateful to my friend and excellent colleague [Katie Razzall] for stepping in this evening. She did so because I asked for the night off -knowing tonight’s [programme] would be in the most excellent hands.  

‘Been overwhelmed by all the kindness, messages – and support on here – and I’ve probably missed much of it. A big thank you from us all at Newsnight.’ 

Emily Maitlis’ comments 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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