BBC Brings in Social Media Bias-Checker After Maitlis Anti-Cummings Rant

People leave the BBC building, in the corporation's West London headquarters, 21 March 2005.
CARL DE SOUZA/AFP/Getty

The BBC has announced that it has employed a high-level bias-checker to ensure that the taxpayer-funded broadcaster appears impartial on social media. The announcement comes after public outcry following a news programme airing a politically-biased monologue.

The broadcaster has been “swamped” with tens of thousands of complaints from the public after Newsnight‘s Emily Maitlis let her left-wing bias show when she declared as fact that the prime minister’s senior aid Dominic Cummings “broke the rules” and Boris Johnson’s “blind loyalty” to Mr Cummings allegedly led to “fury, contempt and anguish” from the public.

The BBC’s charter maintains that its news journalists and editors must remain unbiased and cannot present as fact their opinions or politics. The broadcaster deleted the viral clip of the ranting monologue from Twitter, and issued a statement that it “did not meet our standards of due impartiality”. With no indications that Maitlis would be penalised, the broadcaster also stated that “staff have been reminded of the guidelines”.

Maitlis has not apologised but instead thanked her followers for their support. The broadcaster has since announced the former director of global news Richard Sambrook will work to assess whether official BBC accounts are damaging its reputation by highlighting such clips of extreme political bias, according to The Times report on Friday.

Professor Sambrook, the director of the Centre for Journalism at Cardiff University, will conduct an “independent review” of how the BBC programme highlights are “clipped” and shared on social media. While the BBC said that they and Mr Sambrook had discussed the engagement “some time ago”, the timing of the announcement is suspect.

A source in the BBC told The Guardian that they had been “swamped” with tens of thousands of complaints about the Maitlis affair. News and politics website Guido Fawkes also claimed that there had been 18,158 complaints in the first 24 hours after Tuesday’s Newsnight programme “and it’s still going up”.

However given polling in recent years, it is clear that the British public already thinks that the BBC and its journalists are biased. A Norstat poll from December found that nearly two-thirds of Britons believe that the BBC is biased, while another from YouGov that same month found that most Britons do not trust BBC News journalists to tell the truth.

Brexiteers have warned that the campaign to force out and discredit Mr Cummings is part of a proxy-war against Brexit, with Nigel Farage having said that Remainers hope that if they can get rid of the former Vote Leave strategist, they can delay Brexit.

A 2017 report from News-Watch found that BBC Radio 4’s flagship news and current affairs show the Today programme was “strongly biased against Brexit” and suppressed Eurosceptic opinions.

The following year, think tank Civitas came to a similar conclusion, finding that in the decade up to the Brexit vote, just over three per cent of guests asked to discuss the EU on the Today programme were Eurosceptics. Editors were also found to have consistently excluded left-wing voices of Euroscepticism, giving the impression that Brexit was solely a right-wing issue.

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