Emily Maitlis rinses BBC News, saying its output is being ‘shaped by a Tory party agent’

Have a watch of the clip below – Emily Maitlis giving the James MacTaggart Memorial Lecture at the Edinburgh TV Festival 2022

You can watch the full version from 13mins 30seconds here.

Amongst other things, the timing of this speech has hit ministers where it hurts – because at the moment it doesn’t appear that there is a functioning government, and Parliament is still in recess. This despite Labour’s demands for an urgent recall of Parliament to debate the Cost of Living Crisis.

With Boris Johnson having clearly lost interest in the business of government that he’s still the head of, and with both the final two candidates for the Conservative leadership still going around the country promising 1980s-style policies to local party selectorates in the face of 21st Century problems, there is no one able to provide a quick, clear, and credible rebuttal on behalf of the Government.

There is already huge scrutiny about how BBC News will be covering this – as there always is at such times when they have to report about the shortcomings of their own institution.

And it’s their own high profile former journalists who are also asking the same questions.

The Guardian ran with this headline

Above – Emily Maitlis, now working freelance.

Recall a year ago the storm around Jess Brammaer’s appointment as a BBC Executive. Labour called for the former Conservative Comms Director Gibb, installed as a BBC Non-Executive Director, to resign over what they saw as political moves to block Ms Brammar’s appointment. The print-press hit job that a number of print press publications ran on her were despicable.

“Hang on – don’t Labour have form?”

They do – and lots of it under Tony Blair. The problem is not just with the Conservatives, it’s with the entire political establishment over who can control this very large institution that is part of the fabric of 20th and 21st Century Britain – for better or worse.

Former Labour Work and Pensions Secretary James Purnell – moved to the BBC.

Mr Purnell joined as director of strategy in 2013.

“The BBC’s intentions have come under fire from Tories including John Whittingdale, the former culture secretary, and Damian Collins, a member of the culture select committee, who argue that Purnell’s appointment could jeopardise the BBC’s impartiality.”

The Guardian, 23 Aug 2016

The defence of Mr Purnell perhaps strangely came from a Conservative.

“The question is: does the person have the ability to understand their role and what the imperatives of the BBC are?” said Grade. “I have no fear he would in any way allow his political history to interfere with his obligations to uphold the BBC’s impartiality and independence. And I speak as a Tory backbench peer. It makes me very uncomfortable politicians making party politics out of people’s careers in this way.

Lord Grade to The Guardian, 23 Aug 2016

Go back to 1999 and you will find similar concerns were raised by Conservatives over the appointment of Greg Dyke.

“Greg Dyke, the man who will lead the BBC, today resigned from the Labour party and said he wanted to meet Conservative leader William Hague “as soon as possible” to dispel charges that he is one of Prime Minister Tony Blair’s cronies.”

The Guardian, 25 Jun 1999

Above – this is why contemporary history matters!

It all ended bitterly for Mr Dyke following the publication of the Hutton Report in 2004 on how the BBC handled the tragic death of civil servant David Kelly. At the time many critics accused Hutton of overseeing a ‘whitewash’. The critics were ultimately proved right with the long-awaited Chilcot Report on the Iraq War.

“I think any prime minister taking a country into war has got to be straight with the nation and carry it, so far as possible, with him or her. I don’t believe that was the case in the Iraq instance.”

The Guardian, citing a BBC Interview with Sir John Chilcot, 06 Jul 2017

Recall that the late 1990s/early 2000s were an era of obsessive spinning of current affairs reporting and output by ‘spin doctors’ – communications specialists. While this generation is much more clued up on when things are being spun, we are less so in the dark arts of online misinformation (information that turns out to be incorrect) and disinformation (the deliberate spreading of information that is not correct/knowingly false). We’re still dealing with the fallout of this on things like leaving the EU, to the Climate Emergency.

“Television Is The Bulwark Of Our Democracy” 

This is Dorothy Byrne of Channel 4 News giving the MacTaggart Lecture back in 2019.

Prophetic words.

You can watch her full lecture here.

For me, what makes this intervention by Emily Maitlis different is that she is speaking from having had decades of experience in the media – and many years in the BBC. She has a credibility that comes with that experience and expertise. She cannot be dismissed as a party political speaker or a ‘woke activist’. Furthermore, she’s amplifying what many people from across the political matrix of opinion have been saying for quite some time about the BBC’s inability to hold those in power to account.

“Is this an historical moment in UK broadcast media history?”

It’s too early to tell at the moment. So much in politics and current affairs is in a state of flux that this could be just another one of those things swept up in it all. At the same time there are other outlets that are more willing/able to put the difficult questions to ministers that perhaps BBC journalists have been less willing / more afraid to do. Such as Sky News, no longer owned by the Murdochs following a takeover by ComCast. At the same time we’ve seen the rise of more partisan channels on the right and left of politics that broadcast online only. For those that target UK audiences but are broadcast from outside, it is much harder for the regulator, OfCom, to regulate and take action over. This remains one of the battles between broadcasters and media regulators that will be ongoing throughout the 21st Century.

“With that in mind – how’s The Juice Media video going?”

They’ve produced a PG/bleeped out version should you have little ones or sensitive dispositions. Or simply not like gratuitous swearing.

Above – Are the bleeps more irritating than the swearing in such videos?

Their first spoof one on the British Government had over 3m hits according to this FB update. This is across their various platforms – over 300,000 of those were on their Youtube page here.

“So…what can make ‘the news’ better, or rather the reporting of politics and current affairs?”

Have a read of Roger Mosey’s book

As the former BBC Executive who has been Master of Selwyn College, Cambridge for a few years now, I picked out my top two from his list.

  1. Challenge the political narrative – a basic for any political journalist
  2. Rebuild the regions – this is where I think the BBC could fund additional local reporting functions in local news outlets – especially on crime and court reporting.

In the meantime, enjoy The Final Season of the UK.

Normally I blog about things local to me in and around Cambridge that involve local rather than national politics – though I often return to national issues if something catches my eye. Of late though, it’s been too depressing! Hence appreciating the light relief provided by The Juice Media.

If you are interested in the longer term future of Cambridge, and on what happens at the local democracy meetings where decisions are made, feel free to:

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