BBC Europe editor Katya Adler has been found to have breached impartiality rules after branding Michael Gove ‘delusional’ in a tweet, the corporation’s complaints unit has found.
Adler, Europe editor since 2014, slammed comments by Cabinet Office Minister Gove in April, after he said ‘the Covid crisis, in some respects, should concentrate the minds of EU negotiators, enforcing the vital importance of coming to a conclusion’.
In response, Adler wrote: ‘Am not first to comment on this today but below observation by Michael Gove that #coronavirus will focus EU minds on post #Brexit trade deal is delusional. It distracts EU leaders all the more from something which was not top of in-tray even before Covid-19.’
Now, as new director-general Tim Davie plans a social media crackdown, the BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit has found her use of the word delusional breached guidelines.
BBC Europe editor Katya Adler has been found to have breached impartiality rules
A member of the public had complained to the BBC over the use of the word.
The complaints unit ruled: ‘The detail she marshalled in support of her initial assertion shed light on the complexity of the story in a measured and balanced way; and she acknowledged the economic dimension of the argument, while pointing out the political imperatives driving the EU towards focusing on Covid-19.
‘The ECU therefore did not agree that these tweets, taken as a connected series, raised questions about the overall impartiality of the BBC or Ms Adler.’
However, it ruled that the word ‘delusional’, acted more as a term of evaluation than of objective description and therefore was ‘necessarily to some extent an adverse reflection on the person making it’.
As such the tweet went beyond the BBC editorial guidelines’ licence for ‘professional judgments, rooted in evidence’, the ECU said. It reported the finding to the BBC News board and discussed it with relevant members of editorial management.
It is the latest episode involving a BBC journalist, after Naga Munchetty was rapped by BBC bosses after appearing in a business interview series for NatWest.
The BBC Breakfast presenter, who earns up to £195,000 per year, hosted webinars for the banking giant weeks after she was rebuked for fronting a paid corporate video for car maker Aston Martin.
She already appears to have antagonised new director general Tim Davie, who has launched a radical shake-up of the national broadcaster to dispel accusations of partiality.
New director general Tim Davie has launched a radical shake-up of the national broadcaster to dispel accusations of partiality
The BBC told MailOnline Munchetty has been warned the gig ‘could be seen as a conflict of interest and will be kept in mind for future editorial decisions.’
Davie unveiled his bold manifesto in his debut speech last week, warning: ‘If you want to be an opinionated columnist or a partisan campaigner on social media then that is a valid choice, but you should not be working at the BBC.’
He said there would be ‘clearer direction on the declaration of external interests’ following concerns that news stars had risked undermining impartiality at the BBC with their corporate work. He added that the BBC should be ‘utterly impartial’.
While the videos were filmed before Davie took up the post, BBC insiders are reportedly ‘furious’ about Munchetty’s external engagements.
The 45-year-old is the latest in a slew of stars at the corporation including Huw Edwards, Greg James, Mishal Hussain and Jon Sopel, who have topped up their hefty salaries with payouts from oil companies, banks and car giants.
One source told the Sun: ‘How can she remain impartial if she’s doing corporate gigs for a banking giant in her free time?
‘What happens if there’s a financial story she has to discuss on the sofa, it’s an impossible situation.’
A BBC spokesperson said: ‘Since this event, Naga has been reminded of the risk of conflict of interest when undergoing external engagements.
Naga Munchetty (left) was already in hot water after appearing in the corporate promo video for Aston Martin (pictured), with BBC bosses saying she may have once more put the broadcaster’s impartiality at risk
‘We are developing clearer direction in this area as part of our wider work on impartiality and will have more to say on that in due course.’
Last month, Munchetty hosted a webinar video for the luxury carmaker without gaining approval from her employer or declaring her fee, sources told the i.
The video played up how Aston Martin was ‘engaging and assisting employees’ during the coronavirus crisis despite the company’s plans to cut 500 jobs – a fifth of its workforce.
Its chief executive Andy Palmer was fired after the company’s share price plummeted and falling sales lead to a £227m loss.
The ECU also published its ruling against Newsnight’s Emily Maitlis, who said in a monologue at the start of a programme in May that Boris Johnson’s chief advisor Dominic Cummings had broken lockdown rules and ‘shocked’ the public.
It said the loaded rant ‘placed the presenter closer to one side of the debate’ over the behaviour of Boris Johnson’s chief adviser.
Following the broadcast, bosses were quick to accept the programme had strayed beyond impartiality after viewers bombarded the BBC with complaints.
The ECU yesterday released its own verdict on the May 26 episode which reaffirmed the position that it broke strict rules governing impartiality and accuracy.
However, the ECU considers the matter closed and said it will not be taking any further action for the breach.
It ruled: ‘The definitive and at times critical nature of the language – asserting without qualification that Mr Cummings broke the rules, that ‘the country could see that’ and that the Prime Minister was guilty of ‘blind loyalty’ in refusing to sack him, placed the presenter closer to one side of the debate over his behaviour.’
The ECU accepted that the programme was entitled to play ‘devil’s advocate’ and ask tough questions on behalf of viewers.
But it said that at the time of the broadcast it had not been established by an independent arbiter that Mr Cummings broke lockdown rules, which undermined the veracity of Maitlis’ scathing remarks.
‘In the ECU’s view the opening remarks did not sufficiently acknowledge such uncertainties.’
Although some complainants put pressure on the complaints board to discipline the programme, the ECU has drawn a line under the episode and considers its probe closed.