BBC chairman criticizes Emily Maitlis’ Newsnight comments on Dominic Cummings | BBC

The BBC’s chairman has said he believes Emily Maitlis was “wrong” in her Newsnight coverage of Dominic Cummings’ visit to Barnard Castle in 2020 as he set out his plan to improve the broadcaster.

Richard Sharp criticized Maitlis, who has since left the broadcaster, for opening the program by saying “the country” could see Cummings had broken lockdown rules “and is shocked the government can’t”.

Sharp, who in September rejected claims by Maitlis that a former Downing Street communications director is acting as an agent of the Conservative Party at the company, told the Sunday Times that “we are not a campaigning institution. Our approach is to present the facts and not to lead with a broadcaster’s opinion.”

The chairman also acknowledged that “the BBC has a liberal bias”, but insists that “the institution is fighting it”.

On the issue of impartiality in news coverage compared to its rivals, Sharp told the paper: “We can expose the brutal oppression of the Uyghurs in China without having to worry that our business in China will suffer. At a time when some commercial news networks avoid some issues, air conspiracy theories and fake news or misrepresent history, we must continue to lead the world in reliable news.”

The former Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan banker also highlighted areas where he acknowledged the broadcaster needs to improve.

Of the business coverage, he said: “I have Bloomberg TV on in here for a reason. It is excellent. We have to raise our game.”

He added that the BBC’s correspondents and editors are “first class”, but across the institution business and finance are “not as well understood as they should be”. “We need to do a better job explaining them, especially when inflation is forcing the government and the opposition to make very difficult choices,” he said.

The company’s chairman and chief executive, Tim Davie, has launched a review of coverage starting with taxation and public expenditure.

Sharp, who worked as an economic adviser to Boris Johnson when he was mayor of London, also believes the BBC “needs more of a culture of accountability”. “People have felt disadvantaged here, whether it’s minority groups or women,” he said.

In 2018, the BBC’s former China editor Carrie Gracie won the battle over gender pay inequality, receiving an apology and a payout from the company. In 2020, Samira Ahmed won an employment law for equal pay against the broadcaster. Hundreds of female employees were awarded pay rises.

In 2017, the BBC’s pay gap was 9.3%. The broadcaster says it is now 5.9%. The UK average is 15.4%.

Another area that Sharp has criticized is the analysis of audience data, which he believes “has been poor”. “Instead of expecting the audience to come to where we are, we should be alpha-focused on finding out where they are and going there,” he said.

Citing Newsnight as an example, he added: “In an analogue world, 10.30 was a very important time slot that people would turn up for. In a digital world, people consume Newsnight-style information when they want, where they want.”

He believes Newsnight analysis should be “repackaged and distributed in different ways in new formats on new platforms” and praised social media platform TikTok for its “fantastic user experience”.

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