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The BBC is failing its journalists with a lack of clear direction

By asking people like Emily Maitlis and Naga Munchetty to provide both the emotive personality demanded by social media and the impartiality demanded by its own guidelines, the corporation puts its people in an impossible situation. It’s easy to see why Emily Maitlis would be surprised and put out by the BBC’s decision that her introduction to Tuesday’s Newsnight about Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings broke the corporation’s editorial guidelines. It was a characteristically sparky piece of writing; it had immediately been acclaimed by thousands on Twitter; and it wasn’t much different from lots of other mini-editorials on the BBC in recent years. Andrew Neil routinely used to open This Week with a monologue that was far ruder and more pointed than Maitlis’s effort. And yet I can see why BBC bosses responded as they did. It was unambiguously clear what Maitlis’s own position was, and she stirred in words such as “fury, contempt and anguish” to describe the national mood when a significant minority doesn’t share that view (28 per cent of the electorate don’t think Cummings should resign, according to YouGov.) As the BBC press statement said, “the introduction was a summary of the questions [Newsnight] would examine”; but the programme had already made its mind up about the answers. So how did a brilliant journalist on one of the BBC’s most intelligent programmes end up on the wrong side of the corporation’s editorial police?

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