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BBC says Emily Maitlis' remarks about Dominic Cummings 'broke impartiality rules'

The British Prime Minister is standing by his senior aide despite mounting pressure to fire him.

Dominic Cummings
Dominic Cummings
Image: PA Images

Updated May 27th 2020, 8:44 PM

THE BBC HAS said that an introduction to Newsnight, which discussed the Dominic Cummings lockdown row, “did not meet our standards of due impartiality”.

Presenter Emily Maitlis opened last night’s show by saying the Prime Minister’s chief adviser had “broken the rules” and “the country can see that, and it’s shocked the government cannot”.

The BBC said in a statement today that staff had been “reminded of the guidelines” around impartiality following the broadcast.

Maitlis has been replaced by Katie Razzall as host of tonight’s episode, the Guardian is reporting

Razzall has tweeted that the BBC did not ask Maitlis to “take tonight off” but the latter ended last night’s show by saying she would be back on air tonight

In last night’s 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.”

Cummings drove from London to Durham (about 430km) to isolate with his family during the lockdown and says he subsequently took a trip to Barnard Castle to see if he was fit enough to drive before returning to the capital.

The BBC statement added: “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.”

Good Morning Britain presenter Piers Morgan branded the BBC statement “utterly disgraceful”, adding that the BBC is “chucking one of its best journalists under the bus for telling the truth”.

His words were echoed by journalist and former Newsnight economics editor Paul Mason, who said that the decision made him “sick”.

He tweeted: “Every word Maitlis said was true: truth is the criterion of real journalism.”

Conservative MP Julian Knight, who chairs the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, said that the broadcaster had responded rapidly to the incident.

He tweeted: “For the BBC to come out, in such terms, so quickly is really something, no circling of the wagons – issuing what is effectively a written warning.”

The programme’s introduction was criticised by Chris Green, the Conservative MP for Bolton West, who said on Twitter that it “had a clear bias and had nothing to do with the BBC’s mission to inform and educate”.

He added: “We do not need Newsnight to behave as poor quality entertainment.”

Johnson standing by him 

Earlier, Johnson indicated he is standing by Cummings despite mounting Tory anger and plummeting poll ratings.

The British Prime Minister rejected a call for Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill to investigate Cummings’ actions at the height of the Covid-19 lockdown.

Johnson, who was questioned by the Commons Liaison Committee today, said: “Quite frankly I’m not certain – right now – that an inquiry into that matter is a very good use of official time.

“We are working flat out on coronavirus.”

Asked whether the government’s “moral authority” had been undermined by Cummings’ actions and his own defence of them, Johnson said: “I, of course, am deeply sorry for all the hurt and pain and anxiety that people have been going through throughout this period – this country has been going through a frankly most difficult time.

“We are asking people to do quite exceptionally tough things, separating them from their families.”

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Testing

Johnson said he would not be adding to his previous comments on Cummings and said the public wanted politicians to focus on “uniting our message” and “focusing on their needs”.

Johnson used his appearance at the committee – made up of the chairmen and women of Commons select committees – to announce that NHS England’s test and trace system would be up and running from tomorrow.

The scheme will see people who have been in contact with someone who tests positive for coronavirus ordered to self-isolate for 14 days.

Meanwhile the toll of deaths linked to the virus in the UK has risen to almost 48,000.

With reporting by Órla Ryan

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