The BBC has made a statement in that it says a monologue by presenter Emily Maitlis broke the broadcaster’s impartiality rules at the start of Tuesday night’s programme.
Several mistakes were made at Newsnight on Tuesday, it was a mistake to approve the monologue and it was then obviously a mistake to then go on and broadcast it.
“We’ve reviewed the entirety of last night’s (Tuesday 298th May) 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.”
Maitlis should have known better than to write an opening monologue that could lead to accusations of bias and impartiality, and the programme’s editor, Esme Wren, should have known better than to approve it for air.
Ofcom’s Broadcasting Code Section 5, which contrary to belief, the BBC are bound by, clearly states;
5.4 Programmes in the services must exclude all expressions of the views and opinions of the person providing the service on matters of political and industrial controversy and matters relating to current public policy (unless that person is speaking in a legislative forum or in a court of law).
5.5 Due impartiality on matters of political or industrial controversy and matters relating to current public policy must be preserved on the part of any person providing a service.
Ofcom have also previously outlined what they determine to be political or industrial controversy.
In the Ofcom Broadcasting Code, it states; “Matters of political or industrial controversy are political or industrial issues on which politicians, industry and/or the media are in debate. Matters relating to current public policy need not be the subject of debate but relate to a policy under discussion or already decided by a local, regional or national government or by bodies mandated by those public bodies to make policy on their behalf, for example non-governmental organisations, relevant European institutions, etc.”
It is obvious from the outset that Mailis expressed a view and opinion. In defence of Maitlis, some have suggested that what she said was factual, it might well be. The monologue falls foul because it is telling the viewer what they should think, and how she thinks the nation as a whole is thinking, rather than absolute facts.
Regardless of what it is Maitlis said, and one’s view on the rights and wrongs of the actions of Dominic Cummings, Section 5 of the Broadcasting Code doesn’t allow for it.
I’ve had some say to me, “well Cummings broke the rules, so its fine for Maitlis too”. In the heat of the current news cycle, it is dangerous and disingenuous to suggest that because of the action of one individual, all rule breaking is now justified. It isn’t.
With that said, in my view Maitlis and Wren have both made errors of judgement in respect of Tuesday’s Newsnight and the BBC have acted in accordance with the Ofcom Broadcasting Code in issuing a statement explaining what action they have taken.
Maitlis should not be sacked. I’m perfectly comfortable with the BBC’s approach in reminding Maitlis and Wren of the rules regarding impartiality, both internally at the BBC and in the Ofcom Broadcasting Code.
Like with any employment however, it should serve as a warning, and any future incidents of a similar nature would then require tougher sanction, and would risk bringing the BBC into disrepute.