Emily Maitlis thanks BBC viewers for support after Cummings row

Newsnight host did not present Wednesday’s programme after criticism by station bosses

Emily Maitlis has been replaced as host of Wednesday night’s episode of Newsnight after BBC bosses reprimanded her over a monologue in which she attacked the government’s handling of Dominic Cummings’ lockdown trip to Durham. Video: BBC/ Newsnight

 

BBC Newsnight host Emily Maitlis said she has been “overwhelmed” by support from viewers as she disclosed it was her decision not to appear on Wednesday night’s programme after a row over its handling of the Dominic Cummings controversy.

The BBC ruled that the presenter’s comments on prime minister Boris Johnson’s chief adviser, delivered in an opening monologue on Tuesday night’s how, breached impartiality rules.

The 49-year-old broadcaster tweeted: “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.”

Her absence the night after the monologue sparked suggestions she had been replaced on the flagship BBC Two programme, but Maitlis said she had asked for the evening off.

She tweeted: “So grateful to my friend and excellent colleague Katie Razzall for stepping in... She did so because I asked for the night off – knowing tonight’s programme would be in the most excellent hands.”

Prior to presenting Wednesday night’s programme, Razzall tweeted: “Just for the record, Emily Maitlis has not been asked by the BBC to take tonight off – and if I thought she had been, I certainly wouldn’t have agreed to present the show.”

In her introduction to Tuesday’s show, Maitlis said Mr Cummings had “broken the rules” and “the country can see that, and it’s shocked the government cannot”.

She 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.” The “public mood” was “one of fury, contempt and anguish”, she said.

Following controversy over the monologue, the BBC issued a swift response.

It said staff had been “reminded of the guidelines” around impartiality, adding that the corporation must “uphold the highest standards of due impartiality in its news output”.

The programme “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,” the station said.

The broadcaster’s decision sparked criticism. Good Morning Britain presenter Piers Morgan branded the BBC statement “utterly disgraceful”, saying the corporation 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”.

‘Clear as day’

National Union of Journalists 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.”

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, Conservative MP for Bolton West, who said on Twitter that 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 Downing Street 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 US president Donald Trump and racism.

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 Hall. – PA