Newsnight’s Emily Maitlis cancels York event – days after controversy over Dominic Cummings coverage

Emily Maitlis. Photograph: BBC
31 May 2020 @ 6.25 pm
| News

BBC presenter Emily Maitlis has pulled out of a York event just days after sparking thousands of complaints over coverage of the Dominic Cummings story.

Ms Maitlis had been due to take part in the York Festival of Ideas, which has gone completely online this year.

In the event on Tuesday (2 June) The Imperfect Art of Making News, the Newsnight host was set to talk with FT journalist Isabel Berwick about “the fine art – and often chaotic result – of the interview”.

Then she would answer questions from participants.

But Ms Maitlis has now withdrawn due to “pressure of work”.

Controversial introduction

In her controversial introduction to a Newsnight report on Dominic Cummings’ travel during lockdown, Ms Maitlis said the Prime Minister’s aide “broke the rules – the country can see that and it’s shocked the government cannot”.

Her remarks attracted 40,000 complaints to the BBC – split about half and half between those who felt she had broken impartiality rules, and those angry at the BBC censuring the journalist.

After reviewing the programme, the BBC said: “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.”

Ms Maitlis, who won the RTS award for Network Presenter of the Year in February, took the decision not to present the following day’s programme. Her next scheduled appearance on Newsnight is tomorrow (Monday, 1 June).

Huge disappointment

Photograph: York Festival of Ideas

The York Festival of Ideas organisers have written to those who had registered to attend her event.

They said: “Due to pressure of work, Emily has told us that she is now unable to participate in this event.

“She has asked us to convey her huge disappointment that she has had to postpone her participation in the York Festival of Ideas.”

They are working with her to find a new date for the discussion, and added:

“We are living in extraordinary times where the need for flexibility and adaptability is paramount.

“We are always hugely grateful that journalists of Emily’s profile and calibre are willing to give their time for free to the festival but of course we know that news agendas will occasionally take over and their availability is subject to last minute changes.”