The Channel 4 News team delivers a public and stinging takedown of BBC Newsnight

Jon Snow and Emily Maitlis
Kerry-anne Mendoza

The Channel 4 News team has made public comments criticising BBC Newsnight‘s coverage of the Cambridge Analytica scandal. It’s rare for journalists to make such strident comments for public consumption, which points to the gravity of the mistake by the BBC.

The issue

Carole Cadwalladr of The Observer has been working on the Cambridge Analytica story for over a year. She gained access to whistleblowers from Facebook and Cambridge Analytica who revealed a major political scandal. The company used the illegally obtained Facebook data of hundreds of millions of people to micro-target political ads for Donald Trump and the Brexit Leave campaign. The firm has also been linked to Conservative election campaigns in the UK.

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But it was the Channel 4 News team which brought the scandal explosively alive, by deploying a sting operation against the firm. Posing as potential clients, the undercover team filmed Cambridge Analytica boss Alexander Nix bragging about the scam. Both Cadwalladr and the Channel 4 News team deserve credit for extraordinary journalism.

BBC Newsnight agreed to record a ‘rebuttal’ interview with Nix, which aired after the Channel 4 News exposé.

There is nothing wrong with this in principle. Nix and Cambridge Analytica have the right of reply and rebuttal. That’s balance. However, Newsnight filmed the interview with Nix before the Channel 4 News piece aired. This meant it was filmed before Nix was aware of what he was rebutting. It also meant that Nix faced no challenge from the BBC during his rebuttal. As the Newsnight team hadn’t seen the Channel 4 News footage, they were unable to put the relevant questions to him.

The Channel 4 News team’s response

It did not take long for members of the Channel 4 News team to respond to the BBC. Nor did they mince their words. Veteran broadcaster Jon Snow criticised the move, saying:

He was joined by presenter Krishnan Guru-Murthy, and editor Ben de Pear.

The fallout

By permitting Nix to record his rebuttal before knowing the accusations against him, BBC Newsnight has confused the matter. The programme failed to ensure it could put the appropriate questions to Cambridge Analytica. This turned an attempt at balance into a whitewashing opportunity for Nix. In doing so, BBC Newsnight undermined the painstaking work of the Channel 4 News team. No wonder it’s kicking off.

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