Wednesday 20 April 2016

A Tale of Two Emilys

Last night's Newsnight had two interviews on the EU referendum - one with Jacques Delors's one-time right-hand-man, former EU trade commissioner and director-general of the World Trade Organisation Pascal Lamy, the other with former foreign secretary and Leave campaigner David Owen

All very balanced, except for two things:

(1) From the opening credits to the introduction to her interview with M. Lamy, and then again during her interview with Dr. Owen, Emily Maitlis stressed that this was the former director-general of the World Trade Organisation speaking - a man with years of experience in negotiating trade deals, she kept saying. It felt like a classic 'appeal to authority'. Only attentive Newsnight viewers would have spotted the 'former EU trade commissioner' caption popping up during the interview. Less attentive viewers might never have spotted the clue as to why he was so anti-Brexit.

(2) Emily's interviews couldn't have been more different. With Pascal Lamy, it was 'Thoughtful Emily', listening attentively, not interrupting and asking the odd 'helpful' question too. 

With David Owen, however, it was 'Aggressive Emily', interrupting incessantly, contradicting and barely letting him once finish (or, at times, start) a point. 

Shouldn't she have given Pascal Lamy a rougher ride and Lord Owen a gentler ride and, thus, achieved something a little closer to the idea of BBC impartiality? 


  1. I agree I watched the interview and could not believe how unfair and unbalanced Ms Maitlis was to Lord Owen.

  2. I heard the same thing with Martha Kearney yesterday on WATO. With the Remain spokesperson (Seve Crabbe I think it was), he was allowed to get to the of a sentence before she put her question. With Angela Ledsom (?) or Leave there was repeated interruption mid sentence.

    My suspicion is that at this level they don't actually realise they are being biased. Their own world view takes over and they think, as people broadly sympathetic to Remain and European Integration as a whole, that what is being said by the Leave people is wrong and open to question i.e.they think they need to interrupt more.

  3. Actually, I'd suggest that telling us Lamy was the director of the WTO should be enough to prompt a "Well, he would say that, wouldn't he?" reaction. But flashing his EU credential in the chyron is just barely enough to meet the editorial guideline.

    The method and tone of questioning guests is both one of the most important ways the bias affects broadcasting, and the most difficult to pin down and quantify in a way that would convince the jury, if you know what I mean.

    And why is Stage Performer Maitlis wearing a stab vest?

    1. You weren't the only one to think she was ready for combat there. As BBC Trending would say, her 'flak jacket' went viral on Twitter.


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