BBC says it WAS right to reprimand Emily Maitlis for Cummings speech

BBC insists it WAS right to reprimand Emily Maitlis for her Barnard Castle Newsnight monologue – and director general says Gary Lineker’s impartiality on social media has ‘massively improved’ in recent years

  • Director-General Tim Davie disagrees with Emily Maitlis’s criticism of the BBC
  • Miss Maitlis, 52, had to apologise after No 10 complaint on Cummings speech
  • Ex-Newsnight presenter said BBC ‘sought to pacify’ No 10 without ‘due process’
  • BBC chair Richard Sharp said she should ‘provide facts in an impartial way’
  • Despite Gary Lineker starting Twitter row over bias Mr Davie said he’s improved

BBC director-general Tim Davie said it was ‘absolutely the right decision’ to apologise for Emily Maitlis’s Newsnight speech on Dominic Cummings’s lockdown trip after she criticised the corporation for how they handled it.

Miss Maitlis, 52, was forced to apologise after government complaints about her opening monologue on Mr Cummings’s lockdown trip to Barnard Castle in 2020.

Speaking at a Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee today, Mr Davie said that political interference within the BBC and the process of which the Newsnight made the decision to apologise for her speech are two separate things.

Mr Davie said he stands by the Newsnight decision, adding: ‘Emily is an outstanding journalist, I respect her opinion but we disagree on this.’

He has also said Gary Lineker’s impartiality on social media has had ‘massive improvement to where he was a few years ago’ after discussions with the Match Of The Day presenter over the years about guidelines.

Former Newsnight presenter Emily Maitlis (pictured) accused the BBC of caving in too quickly to Government complaints over her controversial monologue about Dominic Cummings’s lockdown trip to Barnard Castle at the Edinburgh TV Festival

BBC director-general at the Tim Davie (pictured giving evidence to the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee this morning) said: ‘Emily is an outstanding journalist, I respect her opinion but we disagree on this’

Lineker has been hauled over the coals a number of times for his tweets. The presenter deleted a post last year about his BBC pay cut after volunteering to have it slashed by £400,000. He wrote: ‘Another one? Christ, nobody told me.’ He later deleted it.

Lineker also deleted a post in 2019 after taking a swipe at the New Zealand rugby haka. Ahead of a match against Canada, he wrote: ‘Must be hard not to just laugh at this if you’re the opposition.’

He removed it, adding: ‘I’ve deleted the tweet as it wasn’t intended that way in the slightest. I was just wondering why as an opposing sportsmen it would be in anyway intimidating after seeing it for so many years. I should probably have phrased it that way.’

BBC journalist ordered to apologise to Gary Lineker in Twitter row

‘As a politician how could you ever, under any circumstances, bring yourself to vote for pumping sewage into our seas? Unfathomable!’ Gary Lineker tweeted last month

By Paul Revoir Media Editor For The Daily Mail

The BBC faced backlash recently after claims it ordered a senior journalist to apologise to Gary Lineker for blasting the Match Of The Day host’s anti-Government tweets. 

Late last month, ex-England striker started a BBC row after he tweeted ‘As a politician how could you ever, under any circumstances, bring yourself to vote for pumping sewage into our seas? Unfathomable!’

In response, foreign news editor Neil Henderson asked the star if his contract allowed him to make such comments.

One insider claimed that the editor would get lots of support because ‘Lineker’s social media stuff is deeply irritating to many BBC journalists’.

Lineker, the BBC’s best-paid presenter, who last year earned more than £1.35million there, pointed out that because he did not work in news and current affairs he could say such things.

Mr Henderson replied: ‘Does not our duty of impartiality apply across the BBC?’

He added afterwards: ‘The BBC lives or dies by its impartiality. If you can’t abide it, get off it.’

When BBC Director-General Tim Davie took over the helm, he vowed to stamp out political tweets from its stars. Rather than welcome the move, Lineker mocked him, replying ‘nah’ in response to suggestions he should be ‘terrified’ of the clampdown.

Miss Maitlis joined the BBC in 2001 and presented Newsnight from 2006 until earlier this year when she left the broadcaster for rival media group Global to start a news podcast with Global with fellow ex-BBC journalists Jon Sopel and Lewis Goodall.

Insiders had said she decided to leave because she was ‘frustrated’ at being repeatedly ‘ticked off’ by bosses.

BBC bosses concluded that she had breached impartiality rules in the Newsnight coverage that began by saying that the public ‘feel like fools’.

She criticised the BBC’s response to the 2020 Newsnight instalment during which she opened the episode by saying Dominic Cummings, then Boris Johnson’s chief adviser, had ‘broken the rules’ with a lockdown trip to Durham and ‘the country can see that, and it’s shocked the Government cannot’. 

Miss Maitlis criticised the BBC for apologising for her speech about Dominic Cummings during her MacTaggart Lecture at the Edinburgh TV Festival last month. 

However, she questioned the speed that ‘the BBC sought to swiftly pacify’ Downing Street ‘without any kind of due process’ after they complained to BBC News management.

Mr Davie said while he thinks she is an ‘outstanding journalist’, he disagrees on her criticism of the BBC’s handling of the Cummings monologue which Miss Maitlis says received ‘way more attention than in truth it ever deserved’.

Appearing before a Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee (DCMS) today , he said that political interference within the BBC and the process by which Newsnight made the decision to apologise for her speech are two separate things.

The broadcaster received more than 20,000 complaints and ruled Maitlis had breached impartiality rules, saying in a statement: ‘We believe the introduction we broadcast did not meet our standards of due impartiality.’

Mr Davie said he stands by the Newsnight decision, adding: ‘In terms of Newsnight, the BBC is clear, it stands by the decision it made by the way. I was not director-general at the time, but I think it’s absolutely the right decision, unequivocally’.

He later added: ‘Emily is an outstanding journalist, I respect her opinion but we disagree on this.’

BBC chairman Richard Sharp said that it was not that Emily Maitlis’s ‘instincts were wrong’ but that the corporation must ‘provide the facts in an impartial way to the audience’.

Speaking ahead of him in the DCMS session, BBC chairman Richard Sharp said Maitlis was ‘completely wrong’ to suggest that ‘due process wasn’t followed’.

He said: ‘I was at the MacTaggart Lecture and so I found her lecture where she raised this … extremely interesting.

‘And she was addressing a very important issue, which was a global issue of how news can operate in an environment of heightened political tension.

‘She obviously drew on certain issues related to the United States and then she turned her comments to the BBC.

‘It’s worth saying just so there’s no misunderstanding, Tim was not director-general at that time, I was not the chair of the BBC at that time.’

Mr Sharp added: ‘But obviously, I’m familiar in detail with the processes. So I can say that while I thought the issues she raised were worthwhile and very good, she was completely wrong on saying that due process wasn’t followed.

‘I think probably to my mind, that reflected also the fact that I disagree with her view of impartiality, which may mean that she can lead with her own opinions and follow with the facts.

‘The issues around why it was found both by us and then Ofcom subsequently, that we had appropriately addressed the issue, was because she led with her opinions and as a great journalist.

‘It wasn’t that her instincts were wrong, the issue is how the BBC does what it does, which is we have to provide the facts in an impartial way to the audience and allow them to draw their own opinions’.

In an apparent reference to Theresa May’s former communications director Sir Robbie Gibb, during her MacTaggart speech Maitlis had said: ‘Put this in the context of the BBC Board, where another active agent of the Conservative party – former Downing Street spin doctor and former adviser to BBC rival GB News – now sits, acting as the arbiter of BBC impartiality.’

BBC chairman Richard Sharp (pictured) has said that it was not that Emily Maitlis’s ‘instincts were wrong’ but that the corporation must ‘provide the facts in an impartial way to the audience’

BBC chairman Richard Sharp has said Emily Maitlis appearing to describe Sir Robbie Gibb as an ‘active agent of the Conservative Party’ at the BBC was ‘completely wrong’ and he was ‘disappointed’ the former BBC presenter made that point. Pictured: Robbie Gibb, then-Director of Communications at No. 10 leaving Downing Street

Mr Davie said Sir Robbie’s role within the BBC is that of a board member and he feels that everyone on the board should support him and the executive teams to deliver impartiality.

He told the DCMS session: ‘I think everyone coming to the BBC, on the board, puts the BBC first and supports me personally and the executive teams to deliver impartiality.’

When discussing Sir Robbie previously liking a tweet which was described by a DCMS Committee member as ‘party political’, Mr Sharp said that non-executives should ‘seek to avoid getting involved in matters of controversy’, but qualified that they are not required to.

He added: ‘I’d prefer that non-execs refrain from tweeting around controversial or partisan issues’.

Mr Sharp added that he had been informed that Sir Robbie did not in fact like the tweet in question but that he accidentally pressed the ‘like’ button while scrolling through his Twitter feed.

The chairman also said that Maitlis appearing to describe Sir Robbie as an ‘active agent of the Conservative Party’ within the BBC was ‘completely wrong’ and he was ‘disappointed’ the former BBC presenter made that point.

Tim Davie has also said Laura Kuenssberg conducted herself in an ‘exemplary fashion’ during her new politics show on Sunday where comedian Joe Lycett sarcastically praised soon-to-be-elected new prime minister Liz Truss.

The first episode of the BBC’s Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg made headlines after the stand-up jokingly claimed during the programme he was ‘very right-wing’ and that he felt ‘reassured’ following Truss’ live interview in the studio.

Comedian Joe Lycett sarcastically (second right) shared his thoughts on new prime minister Liz Truss on the new BBC’s new Sunday morning politics show Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg (left)

Mr Davie said he did not think having Mr Lycett booked for the show displayed ‘BBC bias in the slightest’ as he felt ‘the audience saw it for what it was’.

He said: ‘We can debate exactly what you debated about whether it was the right booking, but what I will say is Laura conducted herself, as the BBC host, I thought in an exemplary fashion in a slightly difficult situation. We move on.’

Mr Davie added: ‘I don’t think it displays BBC bias in the slightest. The audience saw it for what it was’, later describing it as ‘bemusing’.

Birmingham-born Joe Lycett has become known for performing a number of public stunts in recent years to raise awareness of issues such as single-use plastic.

The comedian also fronts Channel 4’s consumer rights show, Joe Lycett’s Got Your Back, where he takes on large corporations on behalf of the consumer.

Reflecting on the impartiality of the BBC’s content as a whole, Mr Davie said: ‘We do have hundreds of thousands of hours of output… and overall, I think we are delivering well, I do think that and it’s important that we’re proportional about this.’

A committee member spoke about how sports pundit Gary Lineker, one of the BBC’s highest earners, has on occasion voiced his opinion on political matters on social media.

Mr Davie said he has had discussions with Mr Lineker over the years about him following BBC impartiality guidelines and feels he has made a ‘massive improvement to where he was a few years ago’.

‘I’m very supportive of Gary, I think he’s a brilliant presenter, and I think it is work in progress in terms of where he draws the line, but we’ve had a good conversation, I think he understands the guidelines,’ Mr Davie said.

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