THE BBC has been accused of a “gutless capitulation” to Downing Street after slapping down Newsnight presenter Emily Maitlis for telling the truth about Dominic Cummings.
At the same time, the corporation backed its political editor Laura Kuenssberg who had been widely condemned for leaping to the defence of the PM’s top adviser when the story of his lockdown breaches initially broke.
Maitlis was forced to stand down from Newsnight for last night’s programme after she delivered an opening monologue on Tuesday which was critical of Dominic Cummings – the Prime Minister’s top adviser who is facing calls to resign after travelling more than 250 miles to his parents’ Durham farm while sick with Covid-19 during lockdown.
Maitlis kicked off the show by saying “Dominic Cummings broke the rules. The country can see that, and it’s shocked the Government cannot.”
She went on: “He was the man, remember, who always got the public mood. Who tagged the lazy label of elite on those who disagreed. He should understand that public mood now: one of fury, contempt and anguish. He made those who struggled to keep to the rules feel like fools, and has allowed many more to assume they can now flout them.”
“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.”
The clip was shared widely on social media and was praised by many but drew criticism from others – former Labour MP Kate Hoey said she and others would be issuing complaints over the episode.
The BBC said the segment did not meet the broadcaster’s “standards of due impartiality” and pulled Maitlis from last night’s episode.
READ MORE: Emily Maitlis replaced in Newsnight episode for Dominic Cummings comments
Keith Brown, the SNP’s depute leader, accused the broadcaster of buckling under pressure from Number 10. “This statement is a gutless capitulation by BBC bosses,” he told The National. “Newsnight should be commended – not slapped down – for their serious investigative work on Cummings, that’s not something you could say about the BBC News at 10.
“Pandering to 10 Downing Street by curbing journalists from being able to hold the UK Government to account is of serious concern.”
At the same time, bosses backed the BBC’s political editor, Laura Kuenssberg, over complaints she tweeted “in defence” of Dominic Cummings after news broke that he had driven from London to Durham during lockdown. Kuenssberg responded quickly to Daily Mirror political editor Pippa Crerar after the tabloid journalist shared the scoop on Friday night, in what was effectively a rebuttal of the story on Cummings’s behalf.
“Source says his trip was within guidelines as Cummings went to stay with his parents so they could help with childcare while he and his wife were ill – they insist no breach of lockdown,” Kuenssberg tweeted.
READ MORE: BBC supports Laura Kuenssberg’s defence of Dominic Cummings
The BBC has said that it received complaints over the tweet – it has not revealed how many, but enough to warrant a public response in its section for “significant complaints of wide audience concern”.
The BBC said: “We don’t consider that Laura was tweeting in defence of Dominic Cummings. Laura was simply reporting information from a source, and we believe this was clearly stated in her tweet.”