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.
News bosses at the corporation said the BBC2 programme’s lead presenter breached impartiality rules with her opening remarks on Tuesday night. She will be replaced on Wednesday by the Newsnight reporter Katie Razzall.
In the monologue Maitlis told viewers: “Dominic Cummings broke the rules – the country can see that and it’s shocked the government cannot.
“The longer ministers and the prime minister insist he worked within them, the more likely the angry response to the scandal is likely to be … He made those who struggled to keep to the rules feel like fools, and has allowed many more to assume they can flout them.”
Talking of Johnson’s “blind loyalty” in the face of plummeting poll ratings, she expressed bafflement: “The prime minister knows all this and has chosen to ignore it.”
Maitlis finished the programme by telling viewers: “I’ll be back tomorrow.”
Clips of the sequence went viral on social media, attracting millions of views – many more than tune in to Newsnight on a typical evening. However, it caused fury among both Conservative politicians who have largely parked their longstanding criticism of the BBC during the pandemic, and also some journalists in and outside the public broadcaster who felt it went against the corporation’s approach to journalism.
BBC news bosses agreed with the criticism of its own show, swiftly issuing a statement distancing themselves from the monologue. BBC sources said Newsnight’s editor, Esme Wren, worked on Tuesday night’s episode.
“The BBC must uphold the highest standards of due impartiality in its news output,” the corporation said in a statement. “We’ve reviewed the entirety of last night’s Newsnight, including the opening section, and while we believe the programme contained fair, reasonable and rigorous journalism, we feel that we 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. Our staff have been reminded of the guidelines.”
Keith Brown, SNP deputy leader, said: “This statement is a gutless capitulation by BBC bosses. Newsnight should be commended – not slapped down – for their serious investigative work on Cummings, that’s not something you could say about the BBC News at 10.
“Pandering to 10 Downing Street by curbing journalists from being able to hold the UK government to account is of serious concern.”
An SNP spokesperson added: “It’s ironic that the only apology over the whole Dominic Cummings lockdown breaches scandal comes from the BBC.”
Maitlis’s profile, already high, has risen further since she was made lead presenter of the nightly current affairs show last year, shortly after publishing her book Airhead on life as a television presenter. She received global acclaim after confronting Prince Andrew about his connections with the deceased paedophile Jeffrey Epstein. In April she had a viral hit with another monologue of hers which dismissing the idea that coronavirus is a “great leveller” given its disproportionate impact on poorer people .
The BBC has faced heavy criticism over the issue of maintaining impartiality in its news coverage, particularly over its handling of complaints about comments that BBC Breakfast’s presenter Naga Munchetty made about Donald Trump. It also struggled to deal with the enormous levels of criticism from both Labour and the Conservatives during the 2019 general election.