Viewers were surprised and delighted by Emily Maitlis’s brutal interview with a spokesperson from the Institute for Economic Affairs (IEA) on the 30 July edition of BBC Newsnight:
TONIGHT: The work of an undercover reporter has raised concerns regarding the political independence of the Institute for Economic Affairs think-tank. Emily will be joined by Shanker Singham from the IEA to discuss – 22:30.@maitlis | @ShankerASingham | @iealondon | #newsnight pic.twitter.com/PCaMWdp5XO
— BBC Newsnight (@BBCNewsnight) July 30, 2018
As the Guardian reported, a sting by an undercover reporter from Greenpeace revealed that the IEA:
has been offering potential US donors access to government ministers and civil servants as it raises cash for research to support the free-trade deals demanded by hardline Brexiters.
But ahead of the IEA’s appearance on Newsnight, people were sceptical about the BBC‘s ability to hold the organisation to account:
Considering the BBC has been platforming the disaster-capitalism of the IEA for years, I'd suggest it's more likely @maitlis will end up giving Shanker a foot massage than actually asking him investigative questions. #Newsnight https://t.co/k5DoApp31l
— Matt Thomas #JC9 (@Trickyjabs) July 30, 2018
The BBC has previously been accused of giving IEA representatives a platform without making it clear whose interests they are representing. On one Newsnight episode, the IEA’s news editor Kate Andrews called for NHS privatisation. Yet the BBC‘s lack of acknowledgement of who funds the IEA led openDemocracy editor Adam Ramsay to accuse it of breaking its own conflict of interest rules:
Because if not, you’re breaking your own conflict of interest rules by promoting corporate lobbyists without telling the audience who their clients are. https://t.co/ic2lWZaXGl
— Adam Ramsay (@AdamRamsay) July 3, 2018
Who funds you?
But Maitlis’s aggressive interview was poles apart from this previously tepid journalism. She expertly highlighted the difference between the IEA having charitable status compared to if it were to be classed as a consultant lobbyist. And Twitter users also picked up on this point:
#Newsnight The thing that makes the IEA different is that it is registered as a charity and gets charitable status for tax purposes. Costing you & me money. To shift from education to advocacy should mean they are regulated as lobbyists and regulated as such.
— Antosha Zukovsky Corbinski #JC9 🌹✌️ (@davies42g) July 30, 2018
She then attacked it on its lack of transparency over who funds its work:
"You get an E. You're right at the bottom." Newsnight to IEA, citing our transparency ratings (8:15) https://t.co/GiRZeVk6af
— WhoFundsYou? (@WhoFundsYou) July 31, 2018
Maitlis then concluded with a powerful description of the IEA’s murky behaviour:
I’m asking you to help me here, to stand back and look at the perception of this revolving door which spins you from American lobby donors to top UK government ministers… you’ve got to admit it tastes really funny.
People were shocked and delighted by this change of approach from the BBC:
I was impressed with Emily Maitlis tonight, she got stuck into the pathetic tory MP Marcus Fysh and also asked some deeply probing questions of the chap from the IEA, so for a change #Newsnight did its job, this should be the norm for #bbcnews not the exception.
— Loz Argyle (@ArgyleLoz) July 30, 2018
People singled out Maitlis in particular for praise:
The IEA should not have charity status. Well done Emily M of Newsnight for one of the best forensic interviews.
— Jon (@jayar1947) July 31, 2018
No apology for saying Chris Wylie’s comments were nothing more than allegations but watching @maitlis tear into the IEA’s Shanker Singham was well worth staying up for. Well done Newsnight. This is better.
— Paddletramp (@newsboy23) July 31, 2018
Too little too late?
Yet for others, the BBC‘s newfound aggressive approach is too little, too late:
Hilarious….@maitlis going all full on righteous investigative journalist over how iea is funded….twitter has been asking you and @robburl to do that for years but you kept giving them a platform…you steaming hypocrites #newsnight
— pete best (@RickBlaine123) July 30, 2018
As The Canary previously reported, the IEA has a deeply worrying influence over some of the government’s biggest hitters. And some on social media blame the BBC for the organisation’s prominence:
Look #newsnight it's all well and good talking about the opacity of the IEA now but the only reason they've risen to prominence is because you constantly platform them and their ilk on your shows
You've literally got Shanker Singham on now to defend them
— Aman T 🌹 (@AmanTsays) July 30, 2018
Yet just as the BBC‘s past indiscretions deserve criticism, Maitlis’s excellent interview deserves praise.
Let’s hope that, rather than coming around once in a blue moon, it represents a new dawn for BBC Newsnight.
– Support The Canary so we can keep holding the powerful to account.