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December 19, 2018updated 30 Sep 2022 7:16am

Sky News’ Kay Burley: ‘There are enough people wanting to criticise journalists, we shouldn’t turn on each other’

By Charlotte Tobitt

Sky News presenter Kay Burley wants journalists to stop criticising each other on Twitter, saying “there are enough people” doing that already so “we shouldn’t turn on each other”.

Burley, who marked her 30th anniversary with Sky last month and who launched a new afternoon show in September, has faced more than her fair share of abuse and trolling, both online and during live broadcasts.

Her Sky News colleague Faisal Islam tweeted this week that “some pro-Brexit campaigners in yellow jackets were shouting misogynist stuff at Kay” as the pair reported from Westminster.

Cries from campaigners on both sides of the Brexit debate are now a common sight and sound on live Sky News broadcasts outside the Houses of Parliament, with abuse often directed at the presenters themselves.

Speaking to Press Gazette, Burley says she simply ignores this. “It makes absolutely no difference to me whatsoever… [I’m] not in the slightest bit unnerved by people shouting at me.”

She adds: “It’s the quiet ones you need to worry about, that you don’t see coming. I’ve had death threats from jihadis which meant I had to have 24-hour security. That’s the sort of thing you need to worry about.

“You don’t need to worry about people who had a long lunch in the pub and then come and shout abuse at you on Abingdon Green.”

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Burley was named among high-profile UK newsreaders reportedly seen on an ISIS “kill list” online in April 2017.

She says there had been a small number of incidents which caused her to need security at home, adding: “But I take it all in my stride. I’m high profile and some people feel that the only way they can make their point is to try to be aggressive towards me, but I’m not intimidated at all.”

Twitter spats

Burley has 411,000 followers on Twitter, where she says she loves to argue “because it’s fun”.

On Monday she fought back against critics over her handling of a fractious interview with Conservative MP David Davies and Labour MP Anna Turley, simply replying to one user with “bollocks” and telling another: “Did you watch the whole interview or are you just jumping on the angry bus cos it’s nearly Xmas…”

Of Twitter, she says: “It’s a tool that means people can have a little bit of to-and-fro, a little bit of banter. I don’t think that people do it in any other way than just to have a little bit of light relief. Hopefully that’s how they take it.”

But this month, when LBC’s James O’Brien described BBC Radio 4 Today presenter John Humphrys as “so obviously just another deluded, disappointed Brexiter”, Burley intervened.

She tweeted: “Openly criticising broadcast colleagues is not cool.”

Expanding on this, she tells Press Gazette: “There are enough people wanting to criticise us [journalists], we shouldn’t turn on each other.”

Burley also takes great pleasure in championing other journalists, especially female colleagues and young people starting out whom she says she will often let pick her brain over a glass of wine.

‘I’m really rooting for Fiona Bruce’

Asked who she most admires in the news industry at the moment, Burley says: “Probably Fiona Bruce,” the BBC newsreader who will replace David Dimbleby as Question Time host from 10 January.

“She’s just landed herself a fantastic job,” adds Burley. “After 25 years it’s going to be a woman who’s sitting in the hot seat and I’m really rooting for her. I’m sure she’ll do a sensational job.”

Burley herself is fronting a new show – the Kay Burley Show – which launched in September, as part of a shake-up of the Sky News designed to give it more personality and offer more appointment-to-view shows.

Burley’s highlight of the new show so far came in its first week on a trip to New York when she conducted the first official interview with Jeremy Hunt after he was made Foreign Secretary.

The “fabulous” trip also saw Burley interview rock musician Jon Bon Jovi and philanthropist Melinda Gates.

But what makes her new show (Monday to Thursday from 2pm to 5pm) different to Burley’s previous afternoon slot (3pm to 6.30pm)?

“It’s evolved really,” she says.

“We’ve got a sofa, we sit down, we do longer form interviews so rather than just three or four minutes, if the interview is worth it then we can do 25 minutes if we want to, we’re much more free-flowing and open-ended.”

‘The fundamentals remain the same’

But Burley, who has wanted to be a journalist since she was “a little girl at school”, says the “fundamentals” of journalism “remain the same”

“I think that to be a journalist you’ve got to be inquisitive – some might say nosy – but I think the fundamentals remain the same whether you work on a local newspaper, or on an international television station,” she says.

Having a looser format in her new show combines Sky News’s goal of striving for more personality alongside factual news reporting, Burley says.

“I deal with all of the facts in a concise, hopefully articulate, way, but then when we have a less busy news day it means that I can show my personality more with the guests that we have on the programme,” she says.

Sky News, Britain’s first 24-hour rolling news channel, is well-equipped to deal with the minutiae of Brexit, which Burley says she finds “fascinating” – although she admits she has “no idea” what will happen next.

November marked Burley’s 30th anniversary with Sky, which she joined as a founder member ahead of its TV launch in February 1989 under Rupert Murdoch, who this year sold the channel (and Sky News) to Comcast.

Burley has had a few controversial moments over her career, from making Peter Andre cry during an interview to prompting 1,162 Ofcom complaints over her grilling of theme park boss Nick Varney after four people were seriously injured in a rollercoaster crash at Alton Towers in 2015.

On the latter, she went on to tweet: “For those concerned I was hard on Alton Towers boss, he’ll get over it. Not sure those on his ride will be so quick to recover #perspective.”

Despite her huge number of “flying hours” in front of camera, Burley says “every day” is still the most nerve-racking, but she is proud to have presented more live TV hours than anyone else in the UK.

“Every day is a challenging day,” she says. “That’s the whole joy of live television, you never know which direction it’s going to go in an interview.

“As long as you’ve done your research and you’ve planned accordingly, whatever happens you can make it to the end of the broadcast and then think it’s time for gin.”

Sky UK revealed a median gender pay gap of 17.5 per cent last year (figures for this year have yet to be released). Among its on-air talent Sky has said the gap is smaller, but has not shared the number.

On pay parity, Burley said: “All I can say is at Sky we don’t have a gender pay gap. Our newsroom employs at least 50 per cent women. I think we’re about 50 per cent women on air as well.

“I am treated in exactly the same way as my male colleagues, as it should be, and if women are not earning the same as their male colleagues and they find that out then it’s against the law and they should absolutely make sure that they speak to their boss and they get awarded appropriately.”

Picture: Sky News

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