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’.
Fran Unsworth defended a BBC ruling which criticised Maitlis for saying “the country was shocked” that Downing Street could not see that the adviser had “broken the rules”.
Ms Unsworth quoted a Reuters study which found that 30 per cent of the public did not believe that Cummings had done anything wrong by travelling from London to Durham with his family at the height of the coronavirus pandemic.
“The language that the introduction was phrased in belonged more on the op-ed page of a newspaper than on an impartial broadcast programme,” Ms Unsworth told a Royal Television Society event.
She also criticised Ms Maitlis for saying that Cummings owed his survival to Boris Johnson’s “blind loyalty” to his aide. “I don’t think we can attribute motivation in that way.”
Ms Unsworth said the rebuke was handed down the day after the edition was broadcast because “I didn’t need to wait for a complaints process to take its course. I felt the intro had gone beyond what I felt was appropriate.”
Her ruling prompted a “robust discussion” with the Newsnight team, which was reminded of the BBC’s impartiality guidelines.
BBC ‘not impartial on racism’
However Ms Unsworth praised Newsnight’s reporting of the pandemic and said that ministers, currently refusing requests to come on the programme, had a public duty to submit themselves to journalistic scrutiny.
The BBC executive also said the corporation was “not impartial about racism” and supported the “sentiment” behind the statement “black lives matter.”
But the BBC could not endorse the Black Lives Matter movement which is a “campaign.”
The BBC had to remain impartial in its reporting of policy issues such as whether statues should be removed, she said.
She defended the BBC’s description of last weekend’s Black Lives Matter London protests as “mostly peaceful.”