Former BBC Newsnight presenter Emily Maitlis has slammed her former employer over their obvious pro-Tory bias, and suggested that ‘active agents of the Conservative Party’ are working within the Corporation to influence decisions in favour of the government.
Maitlis’s speech – in which she directly called out pro-government bias from former ex-Tory Spin Doctor and current BBC Board Member, Robbie Gibb – came during her keynote speech for the MacTaggart Lecture at the Edinburgh International TV Festival.
Watch the video above for the full story – or you can read a full transcript of Maitlis’s words below:
“The now infamous Dominic Cummings Newsnight introduction got way more attention than, in truth, it ever deserved. It was neither the best nor the worst opening we’ve ever done. I say ‘we’, because the scripts were – as always – written, modified, rewritten, edited, and signed off by a team.
“The original story, you’ll remember, had been broken by Pippa Crerar. Her excellent colleagues at The Mirror, who then went on to report many more stories of rule breaking over the subsequent 12 months.
“We had pollsters explaining the public horror on that issue. We had defenders, we had critics, and we had a detailed analysis of which rules had been broken and when. In other words, the introduction was a pre-scene of what viewers could expect of the whole show.
“And on the night itself, the programme passed off with a few pleasant texts from BBC editors, and frankly, little else. It was only the next morning that the wheels fell off.
“A phone call of complaint was made from Downing Street to the BBC News management. This, for context, is not unusual. It wasn’t unusual in the Blair days – far from it; in the Brown days; in the Cameron days. What I’m saying is: it is pretty normal for government spin doctors to vocalise their displeasure with journalists. What was not foreseen was the speed with which the BBC sought to pacify the complainant.
“Within hours, a very public apology was made. The programme was accused of a failure of impartiality. The recording disappeared from the iPlayer, and there were paparazzi outside my front door.
“Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not standing here trying to pretend our intro was the Gettysburg Address. When I hear it now, honestly, I think it was a bit long-winded, wordy, sounded a bit piqued. But I don’t think, ‘wow, what a shocking breach of impartiality!’ – because we called out the actions of one of the chief architects of the COVID laws.
“We show our impartiality when we report without fear or favour, when we’re not scared to hold power to account, even when it feels uncomfortable to do so. When we understand that if we’ve covered rule breaking by a Scottish chief medical officer or an English government scientist, then journalistic rigour should be applied to those who make policy within Number Ten.
“The one person, ironically, who understood this was Dominic Cummings himself, who texted me that very evening to offer his wry support. So back to the speed of response. [Crowd applauds] Weird right! 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.
“Put this in the context of the BBC Board, where another active agent of the Conservative Party, a former Downing Street spin doctor, and former adviser to BBC rival GB News, now sits, acting as the arbiter of BBC impartiality! According to the Financial Times, he’s attempted to block the appointment of journalists he considers damaging to government relations Provoking Labour’s deputy leader, among others, to call it ‘Tory cronyism at the heart of the BBC’.”
The ‘active agent of the Conservative party’ Maitlis refers to is Sir Robbie Gibb – who has a long affiliation within both The BBC and the Conservative party.
In the 1990s, Gibb – who also happens to be the brother of Conservative MP and former Minister Nick Gibb – worked for the then Tory MP Francis Maude, and also played a crucial role in Michael Portillo’s failed leadership bid.
However, in 2008, he was appointed by the BBC to oversee the Corporation’s political programming – becoming the Editor of BBC Daily and Sunday Politics shows, and the Executive Editor of both The Andrew Marr Show and This Week with Andrew Neil.
But, in 2017, Gibb returned to the Conservative party – joining Theresa May in Downing Street as her Director of Communications.
Gibb now sits as a Non Executive Board Member of the BBC – alongside BBC Director General (and former Tory Candidate) Tim Davie, and The BBC Chairman (and former Tory donor) Richard Sharp.
Now that really is “impartiality” at its finest!