It was Emily Maitlis who broke the rules

It seems like the entire broadcast media have lost the plot.

Tom Slater
Topics Politics UK

The British broadcast media’s alleged impartiality is worn as a badge of pride. It’s one of those things that separates us from those mad Yanks, they say, and spares us the partisan panto performed on US stations each night. The beloved taxpayer-funded BBC, in particular, is held up as the pinnacle of this more liberal-left variety of British exceptionalism. And so when word got round that Boris Johnson was considering scrapping the license fee earlier this year, some people lost it. ‘Save the BBC from Boris Johnson or we’ll get UK Fox News’, wrote Labour MP Ian Murray in February.

How funny, then, that what seems to be ushering in a new partisan era in British broadcast news is not Boris Johnson’s government, or Rupert Murdoch’s latest brainchild, but the BBC itself. Indeed, on Newsnight last night, Emily Maitlis went the full Bill O’Reilly – flouting impartiality guidelines to attack the government on the seemingly never-ending scandal over Dominic Cummings and his decision to drive from London to Durham to self-isolate with his family when his wife was showing Covid-19 symptoms.

‘Dominic Cummings broke the rules, the country can see that, and it’s shocked the government cannot’, she said. But this is opinion, not fact. The government, as we know, maintains that Cummings was acting within the rules, citing exemptions relating to the welfare of children. If he has broken the law, contrary to what the government says, that’s a matter for the authorities. Whether or not he broke the ‘spirit’ of the law, so often invoked in recent days by goalpost-moving journalists, is entirely debatable. Which is why you wouldn’t expect the presenter of a BBC news programme to pronounce so definitively on such matters.

Maitlis’s brass neck was almost impressive. Here she was lecturing her viewers, presenting her views as unalloyed truth, all on the taxpayers’ dime; castigating a government adviser for breaking lockdown rules, while breaching the BBC’s own impartiality rules. ‘Presenters, reporters and correspondents are the public face and voice of the BBC’, the guidelines read. ‘Our audiences should not be able to tell from BBC output the personal opinions of our journalists.’ She, of course, left us under no illusions by the time she was finished.

Having found Cummings guilty live on air, she went on to get some sly digs in, as she said the former Vote Leave campaign chief was out of touch with the public. ‘He was the man, remember, who always got the public mood; he tagged the lazy label of “elite” on those who disagreed. He should understand that public mood now.’ In response to polls showing that large majorities want Cummings to step down, Maitlis and her colleagues are enjoying a rare thing indeed for the broadcast media: being on the right side of public opinion. All it took was a week of sustained hysteria, misreporting and, in her case, the suspension of impartiality.

The BBC was soon hit by a backlash. Earlier today the BBC’s complaints page flagged that it had been ‘receiving some complaints about the introduction to Newsnight on 26 May’. The social-media clip of the monologue was deleted. Now the BBC has announced that the monologue ‘did not meet our standards of due impartiality’. Though it did ludicrously claim it was intended as a ‘summary of the questions we would examine’, despite the fact that Maitlis has form when it comes to having pops at people on-air.

Cummings Derangement Syndrome isn’t a malady limited to Maitlis or the BBC. The broadcast media’s often hysterical and principle-free pursuit of Cummings in recent days has been remarkable. On Monday, Sky News’ Adam Boulton falsely accused a commentator, Darren Grimes, of having worked for Cummings. Then when Grimes raised comments made by Dr Jenny Harries, the deputy chief medical officer, Boulton dismissed her as a ‘government mouthpiece’. Many have thrown caution and impartiality guidelines to the wind in their desperation to damn Cummings and claim his scalp.

But this didn’t come out of nowhere. None of this is about coronavirus. If it were, the media probably wouldn’t have spent the best part of a week banging on about one adviser’s trip to Barnard Castle – rather than, say, the carnage in care homes. This is about a metropolitan media class that has become so self-important that it is blind to its own biases, confused about the difference between opinion and facts, and increasingly hysterical when it doesn’t get its way. In the end, it wasn’t Brexit or Boris or Cummings that turned the UK media into an assembly of one-note culture warriors. They’ve done that all by themselves.

Tom Slater is deputy editor at spiked. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Slater_

Picture by: YouTube.

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Max Watts

4th June 2020 at 10:37 pm

“Dominic Cummings broke the rules.”

“The country can see that…”

“…and is shocked the government cannot.”

“The longer ministers and Prime Minister tell us he worked within them, the more angry the response to this scandal is likely to be.”

Please point out which of these is an ‘opinion’ and not an incontrovertible fact.

If your answer is anything other than zero, then can we meet up so that I can drill a hole in your skull, peer in, and see if I can spot the location of your cognitive dissonance…

Jeremy Bonington-Jagworth

6th June 2020 at 3:20 am

I think that’s called projection.

And you’re projecting so much you could run a twelve screen multiplex yourself!

A David

1st June 2020 at 3:52 pm

I thought that ‘spiked’ thrived on the fact it was an advocate for ”free speech”?
But when somebody, such as Emily Maitlis, goes as far as to risk her own career and livelihood, to voice her own individual opinion, it is somewhat wrong? I understand the impartiality rules, but surely, it is nothing to do with any individual, if she chooses to use her right to free speech. You are not bothered about the impartiality at all, what has annoyed you is that she has called out a member of your Tory government.

G Ciuffardi

2nd June 2020 at 12:44 pm

Maitlis isn’t paid “a King’s ransom” to give us her “freely speeched” opinions dressed up as facts.
By the way, I don’t think for one moment she was risking her career, more likely she thought she was furthering it, probably backed by her Editor, Esme Wren or even higher up, Fran Unsworth.
And yes, I am annoyed because she and the BBC are endlessly, whether directly or subliminally, distorting the truth to push their own agenda.

Max Watts

4th June 2020 at 10:59 pm


The problem with Spiked, and numerous other similar dogmatic, rampantly hypocritical opiners have, is that they believe that *they* can exercise their right to free speech, but nobody else can.

I’m no fan of the BBC, for reasons that are irrelevant to this discussion, but Emily Maitlis’ opening comments were incontrovertible facts.

A combination of cognitive dissonance and a propensity for gaslighting pervades the minds of the pitchforks and flaming torches mob on here (and everywhere, for that matter) that wouldn’t understand dialectic logic if it ran over their cat.

It’s no wonder that we see the rise of fundamentalist groups all across the world, when they witness the schizophrenic hypocrisy of the psuedo-intellectuals on platforms like this, who simply keep stating the inverse of the truth and claiming that it is the truth. They decide there’s no point in negotiating or arguing with a sick dog who is going to twist the self evident truth 180 degrees all the time, so they adopt a “Don’t bother talking to me. We’re going to blow you up” attitude.

Those of us that are immune to gaslighting simply laugh at people like B.O.N. but, of course, people with a low IQ but a huge ego don’t care in the slightest for us, as they’re raison d’etre is to cause controversy and rabble-rouse, by telling us we can’t observe that which is manifest, simply to rake in the clicks.

If ever I’m faced with a nonce like that IRL, I explain that which is palpable to them, and if they try to gaslight me, I simply introduce them to my friends that work for The Ministry of Alterations.

As Mike Tyson said, “Everybody has a plan until you smack them in the mouth.”

Jeremy Bonington-Jagworth

6th June 2020 at 3:28 am

So when you say he broke the rules you mean the government said he didn’t.

He, who supposedly wrote them said he didn’t.

Durham police said he didn’t break ANY apart from maybe possible transgressed ONE A TEENSY-WEENSY bit when he drove to Barnard Castle, bit only so slightly they would have only given words of advice.

NO other police force through whose territory he passed have said he broke ANY rules.

So what are these rules Em is so sure she can see he broke?

If you can’t specify them AND prove he did break them how can “The country can see that…”

If the country can’t see the non-existent rule breaking how and why is the she, you and the country “…shocked the government cannot.”

And why would it be true that:

“The longer ministers and Prime Minister tell us he worked within them, the more angry the response to this scandal is likely to be.”

I’ll wait……

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