Wednesday, August 17News That Matters

Emily Maitlis explains absence from BBC’s Newsnight

Newsnight presenter Emily Maitlis has said she did not present the BBC Two programme on Wednesday because “I asked for the night off”.

She responded to suggestions that the BBC had replaced her after it said her introduction about Dominic Cummings on Tuesday’s show did not meet the required standards of due impartiality.

Newsnight’s UK editor Katie Razzall presented the programme instead.

Maitlis said she knew the show “would be in the most excellent hands”.

She tweeted on Thursday morning to say she had been “overwhelmed by all the kindness, messages – and support on here – and I’ve probably missed much of it. A big thank you from us all at #newsnight”.

Razzall said on Wednesday evening she “wouldn’t have agreed to present the show” if Maitlis had been asked to take the night off.

The programme’s editor Esme Wrenn said Maitlis “hasn’t been replaced tonight in response to the BBC statement”. Deputy editor Stewart McLean added: “For the avoidance of doubt, @maitlis has neither ‘been replaced’ nor ‘been taken off air’ for this evening’s Newsnight”.

Maitlis is not scheduled to present the show again this week – Emma Barnett is fronting Thursday’s programme, with Kirsty Wark on Friday.

Tuesday’s programme opened with Maitlis saying “the country can see” government adviser Mr Cummings had “broken the rules”.

The BBC said the show should have made clear the remarks were “a summary of the questions we would examine” about the prime minister’s aide.

It added the news programme’s staff had been reminded about its guidelines.

At the beginning of the BBC Two programme, Maitlis said the country was “shocked” that the government could not see that Boris Johnson’s aide had broken the rules by travelling from London to County Durham during the coronavirus lockdown.

She said the “public mood” was “one of fury, contempt and anguish”, and that Mr Cummings had made people who struggled to keep to the government’s rules “feel like fools”.

She continued: “The prime minister knows all this. But despite the resignation of one minister, growing unease from his backbenchers, a dramatic early warning from the polls and a deep national disquiet, Boris Johnson has chosen to ignore it.

“Tonight we consider what this blind loyalty tells us about the workings of Number 10.”

In a statement on Wednesday, the BBC said it had “reviewed the entirety of last night’s Newsnight, including the opening section”.

“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,” it continued.

“As it was, we believe the introduction we broadcast did not meet our standards of due impartiality.”

Mr Cummings’ 260-mile journey has been the focus of intense media scrutiny since coming to light last week.

On Monday, the prime minister’s most senior adviser explained that he decided to make the trip because he felt it would be better to self-isolate in a place where he had options for childcare if required.

On Wednesday, Boris Johnson ruled out an inquiry into his adviser’s conduct, insisting it was time to “move on” from the row.

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