The BBC has upheld a complaint that claimed Emily Maitlis was “sneering and bullying” towards columnist Rod Liddle during a live Newsnight discussion.
The BBC’s internal executive complaints unit found that Maitlis was too “persistent and personal” in her criticism of Liddle during the discussion on 15 July, leaving her open to claims she had “failed to be even-handed”.
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Liddle, Spectator associate editor and a columnist for the Sun, was part of a discussion about Brexit with Maitlis and Tom Baldwin, director of communications for the People’s Vote campaign.
The segment was investigated after a viewer complained about Maitlis’ attitude towards Liddle, which they claimed exemplified the way the BBC views Leave voters.
During the programme, in which Liddle discussed his book about Brexit called The Great Betrayal, Maitlis said: “You’re not angry that we haven’t left, you say that the Remain argument was that all Leavers were basically racists and xenophobes…”
She asked Liddle if he would describe himself “as a racist because many see you that way”, and later added that his columns contained “consistent casual racism week after week”.
Maitlis added: “All you do is write about suicide bombers blowing themselves up in Tower Hamlets.”
Liddle argued that the particular column being mentioned was “not casual racism”, adding: “Get a grip, Emily.”
He also said: “Do you have to, at every possible juncture, show the BBC’s grotesque bias? Do you have to?”
Former BBC Radio 4 Today presenter John Humphrys claimed in the first extract from his memoirs published this weekend that the BBC “could simply not grasp” how anyone could vote for Brexit and that the crisis “exposed a fundamental flaw in the culture of the BBC”.
He also said there is a “form of institutional liberal bias” within its walls.
In a ruling published on Friday, the BBC’s executive complaints unit said it was valid for Maitlis to press Liddle on his personal views and that he had sufficient opportunity to defend himself.
“However it was insufficiently clear that this was not Ms Maitlis’s view of Mr Liddle but that of his critics, and the persistent and personal nature of the criticism risked leaving her open to the charge that she had failed to be even-handed between the two guests,” the complaints unit went on.
It said the Newsnight team had been “reminded of the need to ensure rigorous questioning of controversial views does not lead to a perceived lack of impartiality”.
The BBC’s executive complaints unit is tasked with considering complaints impartially and independently of the interests of the programme makers/content providers.
Complaints are only sent up to Ofcom if a complainant is unhappy with the BBC’s own handling of the matter.