BBC News boss supports reprimand for Emily Maitlis because some backed Dominic Cummings

Emily Maitlis introduces BBC Newsnight with a summary of the government's reponse to the Dominic Cum

Emily Maitlis introduces BBC Newsnight with a summary of the government's reponse to the Dominic Cummings story. Photograph: BBC. - Credit: Archant

The BBC's head of news has defended reprimanding Emily Maitlis for her monologue over Dominic Cummings - pointing to a poll showing a third of people still supported the prime minister's aide.

Fran Unsworth defended the BBC's ruling against the introduction on Newsnight which claimed Cummings had 'broken the rules' and 'the country can see that, and it's shocked the government cannot'.

Speaking during an online Royal Television Society lunchtime event on Thursday, Unsworth referenced a Reuters study which she said had found 30% of the public did not believe Cummings had done anything wrong.

She said: 'Just because the majority of opinion is on side, and I absolutely accept they were, and that, as I say, was evidenced by the programme, it was the language with which the intro was phrased, which I felt basically belonged more on the op-ed page in a newspaper than it did as the intro to an impartial broadcast programme.'

Unsworth also disagreed with Maitlis' assertio that Cummings owed his survival to Johnson's 'blind loyalty', saying: 'I don't think we can attribute motivation in that way.'

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She said that, following the incident, she had had a 'a robust discussion' with the Newsnight team.

However, she added: 'I just want to say though that I think that Newsnight has had an absolutely brilliant journalistic run over this pandemic, and have really been on the stories.'

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The day after the Newsnight broadcast, the BBC released a statement saying the introduction did not meet its standards of due impartiality and that staff had been 'reminded of the guidelines'.

Asked why she stepped in, she said: 'Because I was acting on what I believed was the case, that it went further than the editorial guidelines allowed us to do.

'I felt, why would I wait for somebody else to make a judgment which I had already made for myself.

'I didn't need to wait for some complaints process to take its course here, if actually I felt that the introduction had gone slightly beyond what I felt was appropriate in terms of what our editorial guidelines are.'

Unsworth spoke hours before the BBC released a report which showed that it had received 23,674 complaints over the episode.

The complaints were made on the grounds that viewers felt the programme showed 'bias against Dominic Cummings and/or the government'.

A petition in support of the presenter received more than 135,000 signatures.

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