Newsnight


Newsnight (or BBC Newsnight) is the BBC's news and current affairs programme, that provides "in-depth investigation and analysis of the stories behind the day's headlines." It broadcasts on weekdays at 10:45pm (formerly 10:30pm before the coronavirus pandemic) on BBC Two, and is also available on BBC iPlayer.[4][5]

Newsnight
Title branding as of 2019
GenreNews and current affairs[1]
Created byBBC News
Presented byLead Presenter:
Emily Maitlis
Other Presenters:
Kirsty Wark
Emma Barnett
Stand-in:
Katie Razzall
Faisal Islam
Mark Urban[2]
Theme music composerGeorge Fenton
Country of originUnited Kingdom
Original languageEnglish
Production
ProducerBBC News
Production locationsStudio B, Broadcasting House, London (2012-20)

Studio E, Broadcasting House, London (March 30th 2020 - October 2nd 2020)

Studio 54D, Broadcasting House, London (2020-)
EditorEsmé Wren[3]
Running time45 minutes
Release
Original networkBBC Two
BBC World News
BBC News Channel
Picture format576i (16:9 SDTV)
1080i (HDTV)
Original release28 January 1980 (1980-01-28) 
present
Chronology
Related showsAny Answers?
Any Questions?
The Big Questions
Dateline London
HARDtalk
Question Time
External links
Newsnight

History


The original 1980 opening titles

Newsnight began on 28 January 1980 at 10.45pm, although a 15-minute news bulletin using the same title had run on BBC Two for a 13-month period from 1975 to 1976. Its launch was delayed by four months by the Association of Broadcasting Staff, at the time the main BBC trade union.[6] Newsnight was the first programme to be made by means of a direct collaboration between BBC News, then at Television Centre, and the current affairs department, based a short distance away at the now defunct Lime Grove Studios. Staff feared job cuts. The newscast also served as a replacement for the current affairs programme Tonight.

Former presenters include Peter Snow, a regular for 17 years, Donald MacCormick, Charles Wheeler, Adam Raphael and John Tusa, later boss of the BBC World Service. In the early days each edition had an 'auxiliary presenter', a phenomenon pejoratively known at the time as the "Newsnight's wife syndrome".[6] Usually a woman, it was her job to read the news headlines and to introduce minor items. Olivia O'Leary in 1985 became the first principal female presenter; the programme has had a single presenter since 1987.[7] Newsnight is now wholly managed by BBC News.[7]

Until 1988, the start time of Newsnight was flexible, so BBC Two could screen a movie at 9:30pm to dovetail with the conclusion of the main news on BBC One. The fixed time slot of 10:30pm was established in the face of fierce objections from the then managing director of BBC TV, Bill Cotton, otherwise in charge of all scheduling decisions. The very announcement was made without him even being informed. The affair sparked a widely reported row within the corporation. One protagonist said it would "destroy the BBC".[8] Newsnight moved to new facilities at Broadcasting House on 15 October 2012.

Between 1999 and 2014 on BBC Two Scotland the offshoot, Newsnight Scotland, presented by Gordon Brewer, replaced the final twenty minutes of the UK programme from Monday to Friday. From May 2014, Newsnight is again shown in full in Scotland, but delayed by half an hour to accommodate Newsnight Scotland's replacement, Scotland 2014. In more recent years Scottish viewers have seen the full edition of the show without a separate programme. The flagship news programmes for BBC Scotland are now shown on their separate channel.

In 2020, Newsnight won the Royal Television Society's Daily News Programme of the Year award. It was succeeded in 2021 by ITV News at Ten.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Newsnight reverted to a 10:45pm start time from 30 March 2020.[9] This was due to Newsnight temporarily sharing a studio with BBC News at Ten during the pandemic to cut footfall in Broadcasting House and allow turnover in the studio, with News at Ten not finishing until 10:35. Further, during the pandemic, some editions presented by Kirsty Wark have been presented from BBC Scotland's Pacific Quay headquarters in Glasgow. However, Wark still travelled to London during weeks she presented more episodes of the show (e.g. when main presenter Emily Maitlis was on holiday). It is expected that Newsnight will return to the normal scheduling when social distancing rules have been eased.

In October 2020 the show moved to a new studio, but continued to broadcast from 10.45 instead of reverting to its pre-pandemic time slot.

Newsnight's signature tune was composed by George Fenton. Various arrangements have been used over the years.

Notable interviews


Jeremy Paxman interviews Michael Howard MP

Jeremy Paxman

In May 1997, Jeremy Paxman pressed former Home Secretary Michael Howard about a meeting with head of the Prison Service Derek Lewis about the possible dismissal of the governor of Parkhurst Prison. Faced with what he considered evasive answers, Paxman put the same question– "Did you threaten to overrule him?" (i.e. Lewis)– twelve times in succession.[10]

This has become the programme's best known interview. Later, during a twentieth anniversary edition of Newsnight, Paxman told Howard that he'd simply been trying desperately to string out the interview because the next item in the running order had failed to materialise.[11] In 2004, Paxman raised the subject again with Howard, by then leader of the Conservative Party to get a final answer.[12][failed verification] This time, Howard laughed it off, saying that he had not threatened to overrule the head of the Prison Service.[citation needed] During Paxman's final show in June 2014, Howard briefly appeared in the studio once more, with Paxman simply asking "Did you?", to which Howard replied "No Jeremy, I didn't, but feel free to ask another 11 times."[13]

Emily Maitlis interviews Prince Andrew, Duke of York

In November 2019, Emily Maitlis interviewed Prince Andrew, Duke of York about his relationship with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, who was found dead in August whilst awaiting trial. The interview was months in the making and Maitlis got the sign-off only 48 hours before.[14]

In the interview, the Duke of York denied having sex with Virginia Roberts Giuffre in March 2001, as she had accused, because he had been at home with his daughters, having taken his elder daughter Beatrice, to a party at PizzaExpress in Woking.[15][16] The Duke said that he had "no recollection of ever meeting" Roberts Giuffre[17] and that he had "absolutely no memory" of a photograph taken of him with Roberts Giuffre at Ghislaine Maxwell's house. He said he had investigations carried out to establish whether the photograph was faked, but they had been inconclusive.[18]

Andrew's responses in the interview received negative reactions from both the media and the public.[19][20] Maitlis won the Network Presenter of the Year award at the RTS Television Journalism Awards in 2020, while the interview was awarded as the Interview of the Year and the Scoop of the Year.[21]

Accusations of bias


In April 2001, the BBC's governors ruled that Newsnight's coverage of Peter Mandelson's resignation over the Hinduja affair had been politically biased. The governors criticised the programme for only featuring Labour Party supporters on the panel discussing the issue, and no opposition politicians appeared at any stage of the 45-minute episode. The broadcast attracted an outcry in the media with one critic describing it as a whitewash worthy of a "one-party state".[22][23]

In May 2020, Newsnight presenter Emily Maitlis broke the BBC's rules on impartiality, by declaring as a fact at the start of the programme that Dominic Cummings had broken the coronavirus lockdown rules and that the country was universally outraged, despite this being a matter of opinion on which different people will disagree. The BBC said that while the programme contained fair, reasonable and rigorous journalism, it was not made clear that the remarks referred to the upcoming content of the programme.[24]

Coverage of sexual abuse scandals


In the weeks after the ITV documentary Exposure: The Other Side of Jimmy Savile was broadcast on 3 October 2012, allegations were made that a Newsnight investigation into Savile by reporter Liz MacKean and producer Meirion Jones in December 2011 had been dropped shortly before transmission because it conflicted with tribute programmes prepared after Savile's death. The BBC appointed Nick Pollard, a former Sky News executive, to examine why the investigation was dropped.[25] On 23 October, the Director-General of the BBC, George Entwistle, appeared before the Parliamentary Culture, Media and Sport Committee, and stated that it had been a "catastrophic mistake" to cancel the Newsnight broadcast.[26]

Newsnight broadcast on 2 November 2012 a report falsely accusing (but not naming) a prominent Conservative, Lord McAlpine of child abuse. The veracity of this story collapsed after The Guardian reported a case of mistaken identity on 8 November[27] and the victim retracted the allegation after belatedly being shown a photograph of McAlpine in an item broadcast on the following day. The production team had not contacted McAlpine about the allegations.[28] An apology about the story was made on 9 November during that evening's broadcast of the programme.[29] In an official statement, the BBC announced all ongoing Newsnight investigations were being suspended.[30] The Director of BBC Scotland, Ken MacQuarrie, investigated the circumstances around the programme. His findings were published on 12 November, and stated that:[31]

The editorial leadership of the team was under very considerable pressure....[T]here was ambiguity around who was taking the ultimate editorial responsibility for the Newsnight report, particularly in the days leading up to the day of transmission.... During the editorial decision-making process, some of the basic journalistic checks were not completed.... There was a different understanding by the key parties about where the responsibility lay for the final editorial sign off for the story on the day.

The BBC announced that Karen O'Connor would take on the role of Acting Editor of Newsnight.[31]

The Pollard report was published on 19 December 2012. It concluded that the decision to drop the original Newsnight report on the allegations against Savile in December 2011 was "flawed", but that it had not been done to protect the Savile tribute programmes. However, it criticised George Entwistle for apparently failing to read emails warning him of Savile's "dark side",[32] and that, after the allegations against Savile eventually became public, the BBC fell into a "level of chaos and confusion [that] was even greater than was apparent at the time".[33] The BBC announced that Newsnight editor Peter Rippon and deputy editor Liz Gibbons would be replaced.[33]

Newsnight Review


From 2000 until December 2009, on Friday evenings Newsnight gave way at 11:00pm to Newsnight Review, a 35-minute consumer survey of the week's artistic and cultural highlights. Mark Lawson was the programme's main presenter in its Late Review incarnation, which began life as a strand of The Late Show. He continued to chair the panel of guest reviewers when it reincarnated as Newsnight Review in 2000, up until December 2005. The programme was presented by Kirsty Wark, Martha Kearney, John Wilson, Tim Marlow, Kwame Kwei-Armah and Hardeep Singh Kohli. Regular reviewers included Mark Kermode, Tom Paulin, Ekow Eshun and Germaine Greer.

As part of the BBC's commitment to moving programmes out of London, Newsnight Review finished on 18 December 2009 with a special hour-long edition. The programme was replaced by The Review Show, produced from Glasgow, which started on 22 January 2010.[34][35] It had the same producer as Newsnight Review and was still presented by Kirsty Wark and Martha Kearney.

Frivolity


Traditionally, there was a short stock market update at the end of each edition. In 2005, Newsnight's then editor, Peter Barron, replaced it with a 30-second weather report, arguing that the market data was available on the internet and that a weather report would be more useful. The change provoked a flurry of complaints.

Paxman on one occasion adopted a sarcastic tone and announced: "So finally and controversially, tomorrow's weather forecast. It's a veritable smorgasbord. Sun, rain, thunder, hail, snow, cold, wind. Almost worth going to work." On other occasions: "It's April, what do you expect?" and, "Take an umbrella with you tomorrow." He claimed, nonetheless, that he was happy presenting the weather. Gavin Esler also joined in, announcing: "As for the spring, you can forget about that until further notice."[36] The programme conducted a telephone poll. Michael Fish, a former weather forecaster, was seen arguing in favour of the weather report, while Norman Lamont, a former Chancellor of the Exchequer, argued for the market update. 62% of viewers voted in favour of the markets, and the update duly returned on Monday 18 April 2005.

Other stunts include: for a week at the end of January 2006, Newsnight played over its closing credits the so-called Radio 4 UK Theme which was facing the axe; the edition of 24 April 2006 played out to the signature tune of the soon-to-be-axed BBC sports programme, Grandstand.

Between January and June 2006 the programme included Gordaq, a spoof stock market index measuring the political performance of Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown. The index started at 100 and moved up or down depending on Brown's political situation, finishing at 101 on 30 June 2006.

In an early day motion of 3 November 2016, as a celebration of the "Brexit" vote for UK withdrawal from the European Union, right-wing Conservative Party MP Andrew Rosindell argued for a return to the broadcasting of "God Save the Queen" at the end of BBC One transmissions each day. The practice was dropped in 1997 (ostensibly due to BBC One adopting 24-hour broadcasting by simulcasting BBC News 24 overnight, rendering closedown obsolete).[37] That evening, Newsnight ended its broadcast with host of that night Kirsty Wark saying that they were "incredibly happy to oblige" Rosindell's request, before playing out to the video of the Sex Pistols' punk song of the same name, much to Rosindell's discontent.[38]

International edition and other media


Newsnight is available in the UK on BBC iPlayer for up to thirty days after broadcast. A weekly digest version of Newsnight is screened on BBC World News, focusing on "the best of the week's films and discussions."[39][40]

From August 2013, Newsnight had a dedicated YouTube channel on which excerpts of programmes could be found.[41] However, the channel was updated for the final time in September 2020 and replaced with sections of the episodes being released on BBC News' main YouTube channel.[42]

BBC America axed its US version of Newsnight as part of a series of changes that included dropping its daily three-hour block of international news.

KCET, an independent public television station in Los Angeles, broadcasts the weekly digest version.[43]

Current presenters, editors, and correspondents


Presenters

PresenterRole
Emily MaitlisLead Presenter[44]
Emma BarnettPresenters[45]
Kirsty Wark
Katie RazzallRelief Presenters
2020 editions[46]
Faisal Islam
Mark Urban

Editors and Correspondents

EditorRole
Deborah CohenHealth Editor
Lewis GoodallPolicy Editor[47]
Gabriel GatehouseInternational Editor[48]
David GrossmanUS Correspondent[49]
Katie RazzallUK Editor[50]
Stephen SmithCulture Correspondent[51]
Mark UrbanDiplomatic Editor[52]
Nicholas WattPolitical Editor[53]

Past presenters and reporters


Newsnight editors


References


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Footnotes