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Emily Maitlis: why the Newsnight presenter’s clearcut approach to the Dominic Cummings scandal is so important

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Lauren Geall
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Emily Maitlis, Newsnight presenter

As we struggle to keep on top of all the latest developments in the Dominic Cummings lockdown scandal, Emily Maitlis’ clearcut approach resonated with so many viewers.

Updated 27 May at 5pm: The BBC has announced that Emily Maitlis’ introductory statement about Dominic Cummings on last night’s Newsnight programme breached their standards of due impartiality.

It follows a mixture of complaints and praise on social media after the video of Maitlis went viral.

Taking to Twitter to share a statement, the BBC wrote: “The BBC must uphold the highest standards of due impartiality in its news output. 

“We’ve reviewed the entirety of last night’s Newsnight, including the opening section, and 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.

“As it was, we believe the introduction we broadcast did not meet our standards of due impartiality. Our staff have been reminded of the guidelines.”

As reported on 27 May at 11:30am: It’s hard to keep on top of everything that’s happening at the moment. Alongside those now familiar worries about the coronavirus pandemic and the health of our loved ones, we’re now being forced to bear witness to the unfolding drama of the Dominic Cummings situation.

At a time when our minds were already struggling to process everything, it’s safe to say the drama and debate of a political scandal was definitely not what we needed –  especially when it comes to trying to make sense of all the complicated statements and lengthy monologues that come with it.

Now more than ever, what we need is clarity – and that’s what made Emily Maitlis’ opening speech about the Cummings situation on the latest episode of Newsnight so important.

The political journalist – who has never been one to sugar-coat her words – made a succinct and powerful address to her viewers, who have since praised the speech for its honest, straightforward approach.

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“Good evening. Dominic Cummings broke the rules,” she began. “The country can see that, and it’s shocked the government cannot. The longer ministers and the prime minister tell us he worked within them, the more angry the response to this scandal is likely to be.”

Going on to explain why Cummings should understand the public mood, Maitlis focused on the plight of those who have followed lockdown rules under extraordinary circumstances, many of whom have been left feeling upset by the reaction to Cummings actions.

“[Cummings] made those who struggled to keep to the rules feel like fools, and has allowed many more to assume they can now flout them,” 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. We do not expect to be joined by a government minister, but that won’t stop us asking the question.”

Maitlis’ speech, which lasted just 53 seconds, certainly made an impact. The clip has since gone viral on social media, with many praising Maitlis for summing up how many people are feeling about the whole situation. 

“Emily Maitlis is one of the best things about the BBC,” wrote one.

“She’s done it again,” began another. “@maitlis saying it as it is and perfectly sums up the nation’s increasing anger at a government that has one rule for us and another rule for themselves.”

And one simply read: “OK, that is an opening… @maitlis tells it how it is.”

However, others expressed concern about Maitlis’ speech, with some accusing the broadcaster of being biased.

“Understand that the BBC is being inundated with complaints about Emily Maitlis and Newsnight from last night,” read one reply. “I have also put in a complaint and am sure many many more will #bbcbias.”

Despite the mixed response, this isn’t the first time Maitlis has made headlines with her powerful openers during the pandemic. At the beginning of April, Maitlis was praised for her criticism of the government’s “misleading” language around Covid-19.

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In a time when it’s all too easy to get caught up in all the information we’ve got to digest and understand, Maitlis has become the voice of reason we need. Now more than ever, we need political journalists to hold the government to account and speak freely about how the country is feeling. Yet again, Maitlis has shown she’s up to the challenge.

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