BBC boss says Maitlis’ Newsnight monologue was more like ‘newspaper op-ed piece’

The BBC's head of news has said that Emily Maitlis' Newsnight monologue about Dominic Cummings belonged "more on the op-ed page in a newspaper" than as the introduction to "an impartial broadcast programme".

Fran Unsworth defended the BBC's ruling that the introduction "did not meet our standards of due impartiality".

Maitlis opened the programme on BBC Two by saying Mr Cummings had "broken the rules" and "the country can see that, and it's shocked the Government cannot".

Mr Cummings travelled to Durham from London while the most stringent lockdown measures were in place, sparking criticism.

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The Duchess of Cornwall speaks to Jordan Stephens and Emily Maitlis (right) during a reception at Clarence House in London to mark the beginning of the annual Women of the World (WOW) festival.
Emily Maitlis arrives at the 2009 GQ Men of the Year Awards at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, London
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Emily Maitlis attending the 14th BGC Annual Charity Day at Canary Wharf in London, in commemoration of BGC's 658 colleagues and the 61 Eurobrokers employees lost on 9/11. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Tuesday September 11, 2018. See PA story SHOWBIZ Charity. Photo credit should read: Ian West/PA Wire
Emily Maitlis in the press room at the GQ Men of the Year Awards 2018 in Association with Hugo Boss held at The Tate Modern in London.
Emily Maitlis attending the photocall for the UK premiere of Spotlight, at the Washington Mayfair Hotel, London.
(left to right) Charlie Webster, Jenni Falconer, Jo Whiley and Emily Maitlis before running the Royal Parks Foundation Half Marathon at Hyde Park, London.
BBC presenters Emily Maitlis (left) and Sophie Raworth before the start of this year's Royal Parks Foundation Half Marathon in Hyde Park, central London this morning.
News presenters Emily Maitlis (left) and Mary Nightingale who were amongst other women in the media at a reception hosted by the Prime Minister David Cameron in 10 Downing St today held to celebrate their achievements.
Emily Maitlis at the Arqiva British Academy Television Awards 2013 at the Royal Festival Hall, London.
Emily Maitlis arriving at the 2011 Glamour Women of the Year Awards in Berkeley Square, London.
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Emily Maitlis attending the Piers Morgan Tonight launch party, at the Mandarin Oriental hotel in Knightsbridge, west London.
The Duchess of Cornwall speaks to Emily Maitlis (right) during a reception at Clarence House in London to mark the beginning of the annual Women of the World (WOW) festival.
LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 11: Emily Maitlis representing SMA Trust makes trades during BGC Charity Day at One Churchill Place on September 11, 2018 in London, England. (Photo by David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images for BGC)
LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 15: Emily Maitlis attends the new Royal Academy of Arts opening party at Royal Academy of Arts on May 15, 2018 in London, England. (Photo by Darren Gerrish/WireImage)
LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 09: Emily Maitlis speaks at the Veuve Clicquot Business Woman Awards at Claridge's Hotel on May 9, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by David M Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 25: Emily Maitlis attends the London Evening Standard Londoner's Diary 100th Birthday Party in partnership with Harvey Nichols at Harvey Nichols on May 25, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 20: Emily Maitlis arrives for the UK Premiere of Spotlight at The Washington Mayfair on January 20, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Samir Hussein/WireImage)
CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 05: Emily Maitlis addresses students at the Cambridge Union Society on October 5, 2015 in Cambridge, England. (Photo by Chris Williamson/Getty Images)
CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 05: Emily Maitlis addresses students at the Cambridge Union Society on October 5, 2015 in Cambridge, England. (Photo by Chris Williamson/Getty Images)
File photo dated 05/09/18 of Emily Maitlis. Speaking on Good Morning Britain, the Newsnight presenter has voiced her support for Newswatch host and colleague, Samira Ahmed, who is pursuing an equal pay complaint against the BBC.
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Speaking during an online Royal Television Society lunchtime event on Thursday, Ms Unsworth referenced a Reuters study which she said had found 30% of the public did not believe Mr 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."

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

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."

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."

Ms 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".

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