Emily Maitlis has forgotten the point of BBC impartiality

The various times I have worked alongside Emily Maitlis, I have always respected her skills and professionalism. As a broadcast journalist who spent 17 years at the BBC, I understand her opinion is sincerely held, and that alongside former colleagues such as Andrew Marr (and myself), she is enjoying the chance to “get her voice back”.

However, I profoundly disagree with her attack during her speech at the Edinburgh Television Festival on both the BBC and Board member (although unnamed) Robbie Gibb. As is drummed into you on day one as a BBC staffer, the Corporation is in the enviable position of receiving vast sums of public money in the form of the licence fee, and with that comes an obligation, beyond what is set out in law, to be impartial and accurate.

The BBC also has a duty to reflect the diversity of opinion held in the country by the very people who pay staff wages. For no-one is this more true than the presenters who become the public face of the corporation’s output.

In her first speech since leaving Newsnight, Emily Maitlis said she had been the victim of outside interference in BBC coverage, after she was found to have breached editorial guidelines in 2020 when she criticised the then No 10 aide Dominic Cummings for his ill-fated trip to Barnard Castle. She claimed the ruling was the result of government pressure.

The BBC was crystal clear – then, and now – that this is simply not true.

As any BBC presenter knows, however strongly they feel about any political story, it is simply not their role to pass judgement.

Maitlis went on, in the same speech, to claim that the BBC gave undue prominence to economists who believed Brexit presented Britain with opportunities. While this was a minority view among professional economists at the time, the role of those working at the BBC is to reflect the range of points of view on any contested subject.

Whatever my view or her view on Brexit, on Dominic Cummings, or any other issue for that matter, people are not paying us for our opinion as BBC presenters. We may be able to present our opinions on other channels, including GB News and Talk TV, but not at the Beeb.

I have only recently met Sir Robbie Gibb, but his fearsome reputation as a champion of BBC impartiality, and the corporation more generally, is long-standing and well known. He would not have been promoted to be in charge of its Westminster coverage if there had been the slightest question about his independence.

To claim, as Emily Maitlis has, that he is “acting as an active agent of the Conservative Party” in his role on the Board perhaps says more about her politics than his. It’s certainly good publicity for her forthcoming podcast at Global.

And what is always missing from this debate is that it is BBC staff who are most frustrated when their former colleagues abuse the Corporation’s large platform to further their own agenda.

I have myself criticised aspects of the Corporation in the past – most recently its decision to merge the two news channels – but always from the perspective that the BBC is a national asset that needs to be cherished by those fortunate enough to work there, and championed by those of us who have left.

Emily Maitlis’s speech does a disservice to the thousands of BBC staff, nationally and locally, who take pride in journalism that stands above the political fray.


Simon McCoy worked at the BBC for 17 years, including as host of the flagship BBC News at One

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