JOURNALIST Emily Maitlis has been warned she breached the BBC’s Twitter guidelines by sharing a “clearly controversial” post about the UK Government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis.
In February 2021, the Newsnight presenter retweeted a post from Piers Morgan on her personal account reading: “If failing to quarantine properly is punishable by 10yrs in prison, what is the punishment for failing to properly protect the country from a pandemic?”
According to the BBC, a member of the public complained that Maitlis’s sharing of the comment “gave an impression of partiality in a controversial matter” and went against the director-general’s rules on social media usage.
The broadcaster’s social media rules, brought in under Tim Davie (below), say news staff should treat their personal Twitter accounts like BBC output – meaning they have to comply with editorial standards on them.
Journalists were told not to post criticism of colleagues, warned emojis can “undercut an otherwise impartial post” and advised that even following certain accounts could be seen as sharing a personal opinion.
The corporation’s guidance states: “Expressions of opinion on social media can take many forms – from straightforward tweets or updates, sharing or liking content, following particular accounts or using campaigning or political hashtags.
“If for example a member of staff repeatedly likes or shares, without comment, content reflecting a particular point of view on a matter of public controversy it might create the impression that individual agrees with that view.”
The BBC’s Executive Complaints Unit (ECU) found that a reporter could be seen to be sharing a view without the repetition element and considered the Maitlis example “to be a case in point”.
“The retweeted material was clearly controversial, implying sharp criticism of the Government, and there was nothing in the surrounding context to make clear that Ms Maitlis was not endorsing it or to draw attention to alternative views,” they wrote.
Although the tweet was deleted within 10 minutes there was no public acknowledgement that it did not meet editorial standards and therefore deletion was not “sufficient to resolve the issue of complaint”, the ECU decided.
The matter has been upheld, reported to the Board of BBC News and discussed with Maitlis.
Last year Maitlis also came under fire for appearing to criticise the Government during her widely shared monologue on Dominic Cummings’s lockdown trip to Durham.
Maitlis said: “Dominic Cummings broke the rules. The country can see that and it’s shocked the Government cannot.” She added people who had stuck to the rules now felt like “fools”.
A statement from the BBC declared Maitlis had “overstepped the mark” during the Newsnight introduction.