Emily Maitlis 'bias' claims against Boris Johnson's government dismissed by BBC

Emily Maitlis on the 3 June episode of Newsnight which prompted claims of anti-government bias. (BBC)
Emily Maitlis on the 3 June episode of Newsnight which prompted claims of anti-government bias. (BBC)

The BBC has dismissed fresh “bias” complaints about presenter Emily Maitlis.

The corporation said it received complaints from Newsnight viewers who felt Maitlis was biased against Boris Johnson’s government when discussing the UK’s coronavirus death toll.

The episode in question was broadcast on 3 June and focused on deaths in care homes.

It opened with a clip of Boris Johnson saying he was “proud” of the government’s record during the outbreak, to which Maitlis said: “When it comes to excess deaths, Britain’s currently a world leader. Is that really something to be proud of?”

It came a week after Maitlis’s controversial monologue on 26 May about Johnson’s chief adviser, Dominic Cummings, following his lockdown trip to Durham. She had said: “Dominic Cummings broke the rules – the country can see that and it’s shocked the government cannot.”

The BBC ruled the monologue broke its impartiality rules, and received tens of thousands of complaints both for and against Maitlis.

However, addressing the 3 June episode in a complaint review published on Monday, the corporation dismissed the fresh claims of bias by saying Maitlis asked “legitimate” questions.

The BBC’s statement reads:

“That day, the UK had the second highest number of recorded deaths in the world as captured by the World Health Organization. This figure was undisputed and it was reported as such across different media outlets. During Prime Minister’s Questions the prime minister remarked that he was proud of his government’s record.

“The edition of Newsnight broadcast later that evening explored the government’s response and the further measures necessary to deal with this unprecedented situation.

“Questions have been raised over aspects of the government’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak so far, for example the communication strategy, the timing of measures put in place to protect public health, and whether NHS workers are adequately protected. It was legitimate for Emily to address these issues with our guests.

“Newsnight will continue to give extensive coverage to this rapidly developing story over the coming weeks, and scrutinise its many implications, reflecting opinion from scientific and medical experts, and across the political spectrum.”

The BBC did not say how many complaints it had received.

Maitlis is one of the BBC’s highest-profile presenters, with a number of her Newsnight monologues having gone viral on social media during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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