Emily Maitlis has reflected on her time as the host of Newsnight and suggested journalists have yet to 'catch up' with a wave of populist politics, in a wide-ranging speech following her departure from the BBC.


Maitlis made the comments during the 2022 MacTaggart Lecture which she delivered at this year's Edinburgh TV Festival. In the lecture, she said that journalists were falling prey to 'both-sidesism' in the effort to provide balance in news reporting.

Incidents she recounted included the introductory speech she gave to an episode of Newsnight on 26th May, in which she said that "the country can see" that Dominic Cummings had broken lockdown rules. The BBC said that the monologue did not meet their standards for impartiality, something Maitlis disputed.

Maitlis also referred to her interview with Robert De Niro during the COVID-19 pandemic, saying that he "wanted to rage about President Trump’s mishandling of the pandemic" and she was left wondering whether the interview would breach the BBC's impartiality rules. She recalled telling her output editor, "We can’t possibly put this out. It’s too anti-Trump", but was now glad that the interview was aired.

She used these examples to demonstrate her thesis that journalists "are primed to back down, even apologise, to prove how journalistically fair we are being" and that this can be "exploited by those crying 'bias'."

More like this

Maitlis said: "This is often a precursor to the rejection of legitimate checks and balances. We should ask why they’re so afraid of scrutiny."

She added that her statement was "not a critique of left or right, Conservative versus Labour, Democrat versus Republican" and said "none of this has anything to do with policy".

She argued that this is "why populist parties can shape shift between the right and left, attract voters of traditional parties or none. It’s not an ideology. It is a means to achieve and retain power."

Maitlis' speech comes as she is about to launch her own podcast The News Agents on the Global Player with Jon Sopel and Lewis Goodall.

The broadcaster announced her resignation from the BBC in February, following a 20-year stint at the broadcaster. Her time at Newnight included multiple notable moments, including her 2019 interview with Prince Andrew.

Looking for something to watch? Visit our TV Guide to see what’s on tonight.


The latest issue of Radio Times is on sale now – subscribe now to get each issue delivered to your door. For more from the biggest stars in TV, listen to the Radio Times podcast with Jane Garvey.