Civil war erupts in BBC as Kuenssberg rejects Tory bias claims: 'Not told what to say!'

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Claims by Ms Maitlis that a Tory “agent” was “acting as the arbiter of BBC impartiality” from his seat on the BBC’s board did not land well with Ms Kuenssberg, whose new flagship Sunday political programme is airing next weekend.

Delivering the MacTaggart Memorial Lecture at the Edinburgh TV Festival, Ms Maitlis pointed out the “Tory cronyism at the heart of the BBC”.

But Ms Kuenssberg said she had “never been told what to say” by executives.

Speaking to The Sunday Times, the former BBC political editor said that it was “totally upside down” to suggest BBC journalists were “terribly restricted”.

She said it was not about “following the line” but “trying to find the truth”, adding: “I’ve never been told what to say – or what not to say, maybe more importantly.”

According to Ms Maitlis, the BBC’s “myopic style of journalism” achieved only “a superficial balance” while “obscuring a deeper truth”.

READ MORE: Emily Maitlis accuses BBC of siding with TORIES in furious outburst

Speaking about her own perceived impartiality while working for the corporation, the former Newsnight anchor last week told the audience in Edinburgh she was twice accused of showing bias against the Government.

The first, she explained, was when she discussed ex-chief adviser Dominic Cummings’ lockdown trip to Barnard Castle; the second after she retweeted Piers Morgan, who was questioning Downing Street’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Ms Maitlis was rebuked for a controversial Newsnight monologue in which she stated Mr Cummings had broken lockdown rules by travelling to County Durham during Covid.

Speaking of the speed of the BBC response to a Downing Street complaint over her comments on Mr Cummings, the journalist said the broadcaster had “sought to pacify” Downing Street by issuing a swift apology.

Ms Maitlis said: “Put this in the context of the BBC Board, where another active agent of the Conservative party — former Downing Street spin doctor, and former adviser to BBC rival GB News — now sits, acting as the arbiter of BBC impartiality.”

Ms Maitlis did not explicitly name said “agent” but was referring to Theresa May’s former director of communications, Robbie Gibb, who has since denied the claims made by the ex-BBC presenter.

Former Question Time host David Dimbleby is among those who questioned Mr Ms Maitlis’s accusations, saying her mistake had been to deliver her Newsnight monologue as a “polemic”.

Mr Dimbleby, 83, also dismissed the suggestion there is a “cabal” of Conservative supporters in the governorship of the BBC.

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Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today show on Saturday, he said: “First of all, the words she spoke had she said been approved by the editorial team at Newsnight so it wasn’t just Emily that was rebuked by the BBC. It was the team.

“The second thing I would say is that the things she said I think should have been questions, not statements.”

Referring to Ms Maitlis’s claim the BBC had rebuked the Newsnight team in response to a complaint from the Government, he added: “I don’t actually think that the call from No10 the next morning (had any effect).

“There is a call from No 10 every bloody morning of the week.”

As the Tory leadership contest nears its end, there are signs the Tories will make radical changes to the BBC, including ending the licence fee in its current form, if led by frontrunner Liz Truss wins.

During her campaign, Ms Truss has questioned the BBC’s accuracy. Speaking on GB News earlier this month, she said she believed the broadcaster did not check its facts.

Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries, a vocal critic of the BBC and Channel 4 as well as a supporter of the Foreign Secretary, has said the licence fee would be frozen for two years and suggested its end altogether, declaring in a tweet that “this licence fee announcement will be the last”. approached the BBC for comment.

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