BBC anchor Emily Maitlis has not apologised for a rant against Dominic Cummings which the broadcaster admits broke the rules on impartiality.
The British Broadcasting Corporation, being funded by the public through a compulsory licence fee which live television viewers must pay whether they consume BBC programming or not –or else face fines backed by the threat of imprisonment — is obliged maintain a neutral, balanced stance in its news reporting.
BBC staff may play Devil’s Advocate when interviewing politicians and so on, putting the arguments which they believe their guests’ opponents would put to them — but they are not allowed to use their publicly-funded platform to take sides or voice their own political opinions, like staffers on left- or right-leaning commercial networks in the United States such as CNN and Fox News.
On the BBC’s flagship Newsnight programme, however, anchor Emily Maitlis opened the May 27th show with a speech declaring in definitive and highly partisan terms that Dominic Cummings, Boris Johnson’s chief adviser, “broke the rules, the country can see that and it’s shocked the government cannot” when he travelled from London to Durham to ensure his young child’s healthcare needs could be met if he and his wife were incapacitated by the coronavirus.
She followed with a dig about how Cummings had in the past “tagged the lazy label of ‘elite'” on political opponents — principally establishment Remainers — and claimed the public mood towards him is “one of fury, contempt, and anguish” before accusing the Prime Minister of “blind loyalty” for defending his “reasonable and legal” behaviour.
BBC statement on last night's Newsnight pic.twitter.com/JFm4Nt5YMv
— BBC News Press Team (@BBCNewsPR) May 27, 2020
The BBC received thousands of complaints about Maitlis’s tirade, and had to admit, after much obfuscation, that it “did not meet our standards of due impartiality”.
While Cummings’ enemies believe he should be fired for alleged rule-breaking, however, Maitlis’s admitted rule-breaking does not appear to warrant any punishment in the eyes of the BBC, which merely noted that “Our staff have been reminded of the guidelines.”
There was speculation that Maitlis’s absence from Newsnight the day after her rant was some form of punishment, but she has since revealed that she was absent simply because she had herself asked for the night off, with substitute Katie Razzall further confirming that she had “not been asked by the BBC to take [the night] off — and if I thought she had been, I certainly wouldn’t have agreed to present the show”.
Indeed, Maitlis not only declined to apologise for her actions, she actually posted a message saying she was “overwhelmed by all the kindness, messages – and support on here – and I’ve probably missed much of it” on social media, and offered “A big thank you” not just from herself, but “from us all at [Newsnight]” — suggesting a signal lack of contrition for the stunt.
Whether the BBC or Ofcom, the broadcast regulator, will take any further, meaningful action remains to be seen.
— Katie Razzall (@katierazz) May 27, 2020
Maitlis has previous form for revealing her political biases in her supposedly impartial journalism, launching into an astonishing pro-EU rant after clashing with the Hungarian foreign minister in an interview centring on his government’s hard line against illegal immigration and state-sponsored multiculturalism in
“The problem with the European Union is it believes in tolerance, diversity, and human rights,” she railed at him, visibly quivering with anger.
“And you are rejecting them all. So maybe it isn’t for you,” she said.
Hungarian Minister Chides ‘Unbalanced, One-sided’ BBC Anchor After Pro-EU, Pro-Migration Rant https://t.co/uEJldXfUDn
— Breitbart London (@BreitbartLondon) June 30, 2018