David Dimbleby slammed Emily Maitlis’ comments about the BBC and described her Dominic Cummings monologue as a ‘polemic’ in a fiercely critical interview on the broadcaster’s Today programme this morning.
The veteran Question Time host and television presenter, 83, said her monologue, which was found to have breached the BBC’s impartiality code, should have been phrased as questions and not as statements.
He did point out it was not Ms Maitlis alone who had been reprimanded by the broadcaster – but the whole Newsnight team.
During the controversial monologue, Ms Maitlis said in May 2020: ‘The country can see that Cummings broke the rule, it is shocking the government cannot.
‘The public mood is one of fury, contempt and anguish.’
Veteran Question Time host and television presenter David Dimbleby, 83, said Emily Maitlis’ monologue on Dominic Cummings was a ‘polemic’
Mr Dimbleby told the Today programme: ‘Well, not everybody may have been shocked… maybe but that is a question to put.
‘It was a polemic. I think that was the mistake.’
Ms Maitlis’ comments followed the revelation that top No.10 aide Dominic Cummings travelled from London to Durham after testing positive for coronavirus, including a now-infamous visit to Barnard Castle.
The PM supported Mr Cummings at the time, who later resigned in November 2020.
The BBC received more than 40,000 complaints in two days about the broadcast – both from those angry at her comments and those annoyed at the BBC’s decision to say it had broken rules.
Former Newsnight presenter Emily Maitlis told the Edinburgh audience: ‘It makes no sense for an organisation that is admirably, famously rigorous about procedure – unless it was perhaps sending a message of reassurance directly to the Government itself?’
Ms Maitlis, 51, who left the BBC this year to join media group Global, told the Edinburgh TV Festival this week that the corporation had ‘sought to pacify’ No 10 by issuing an apology ‘within hours’.
She asked whether the BBC was ‘perhaps sending a message of reassurance directly to the Government.’
Focusing on the speed of the BBC’s response, she said: ‘Why had the BBC immediately and publicly sought to confirm the Government spokesman’s opinion? Without any kind of due process?
‘It makes no sense for an organisation that is admirably, famously rigorous about procedure – unless it was perhaps sending a message of reassurance directly to the Government itself?’
Mr Dimbleby disagreed with this section of Ms Maitlis’ comments too, as well as statements on BBC board member Sir Robbie Gibb, who she described as a ‘former Downing Street spin doctor, and former adviser to BBC rival GB News’.
He said: ‘I don’t think it’s true that there’s a cabal of Tory supporters at the BBC.’
He continued: ‘There will always be collisions with government, and indeed with opposition because they’re always trying to lean on the BBC and on occasion the BBC gets it wrong.’
‘It is a political football, the BBC. We have to believe that.’
Listeners quickly took to social media as the latest twist of the BBC’s word war played out. Although some agreed with Mr Dimbleby, many also backed Ms Maitlis.
In her own speech in Edinburgh, the BBC’s Chief Content Officer Charlotte Moore insisted that ‘in no way was there any influence from the Government or the board’ on the BBC over its decision to rebuke Maitlis.
She added: ‘As we have made clear previously in relation to Newsnight we did not take action as a result of any pressure from Number 10 or Government and to suggest otherwise is wrong.’
Ms Moore said impartiality is ‘particularly important for the BBC’, adding she feels viewers expect that from the broadcaster, especially when it comes to holding politicians to account.
Ms Moore also said she wishes all of the high-profile staff who have left the BBC in the past year well and said that the departures provide great opportunity for new talent to come up in their place.
A BBC spokesperson previously said: ‘The BBC places the highest value on due impartiality and accuracy and we apply these principles to our reporting on all issues.
‘As we have made clear previously in relation to Newsnight, we did not take action as a result of any pressure from No 10 or government and to suggest otherwise is wrong.
‘The BBC found the programme breached its editorial standards and that decision still stands.’