Edinburgh TV Festival: Emily Maitlis’s former Newsnight editor praises ‘brilliant’ MacTaggart Lecture

Channel 4 boss Ian Katz has praised Emily Maitlis’s MacTaggart Lecture as “brilliant” and said it serves as a powerful reminder that “due impartiality is the bedrock of journalism”.

The broadcaster’s chief content officer was editor of BBC current affairs show Newsnight between 2013 and 2017 when Maitlis was an anchor.

During her address at the Edinburgh TV Festival on Wednesday, Maitlis argued the media has failed to adapt to a change in politics and was guilty of “normalising” populist ideas. Speaking during a panel at the festival yesterday, Mr Katz said: “Impartiality does not mean not calling out things that are simply untrue.”

He said that he thinks “the thing we have to obsess about as news organisations is trust” and claimed Channel 4 is the most trusted news outlet in the UK.

Broadcaster Emily Maitlis. Picture: Jeff Spicer/Getty Images

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Reflecting on what the future may hold for Channel 4 as the UK Government seeks to privatise the channel, Mr Katz said: “I covered politics for a long time [and] I learnt it is a fool’s game to try to predict what politicians do.” He added the “whole industry” made it clear the contribution that Channel 4 makes to the economy, levelling up and TV is “best protected in public hands”.

Mr Katz also admitted discussions around privatisation had been “quite energising” for him and his colleagues to give them a “Lazar-focus” on their remit.

During her MacTaggart Lecture, Maitlis also claimed the BBC “sought to pacify” Number 10 by issuing a swift apology for her 2020 Newsnight monologue about Dominic Cummings following his lockdown trip to Durham. In response, the BBC said: “As we have made clear previously in relation to Newsnight we did not take action as a result of any pressure from Number 10 or Government and to suggest otherwise is wrong.”

Charlotte Moore, the BBC’s chief content officer, said she thought Maitlis’s MacTaggart lecture was on an “incredibly important subject” but clarified that “in no way was there any influence from the Government or the board” on the BBC.

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Journalist Emily Maitlis rehearsing ahead of delivering the 2022 MacTaggart Lecture in The Lennox at the EICC at the Edinburgh TV Festival. Maitlis has said a BBC board member is an “active agent of the Conservative party” who is shaping the broadcaster’s news output

Ms Moore said impartiality was “particularly important for the BBC”, adding she feels viewers expect that from the broadcaster, especially when it comes to holding politicians to account.

Reflecting on Maitlis’s Newsnight comments about Cummings’ being reviewed by BBC News bosses, Ms Moore said that everybody at the BBC was held to standards of “due impartiality”.

In speaking on Channel 4’s approach, Mr Katz separately suggested the number of shows and TV formats currently being rebooted by broadcasters was “depressing”.

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His comments come after ITV announced it was reviving Big Brother, while Channel 4 has itself rebooted shows such as Changing Rooms and The Big Breakfast in recent years.

Mr Katz said Big Brother was a “wonderful show” which did “wonderful things” during its time on Channel 4, but that he felt the channel was focusing on commissioning new shows rather than reviving older models.

He said: “I’m sure it will bring an audience to ITV, but I do think there is something depressing about this microwave moment of TV of shows being reheated. If Channel 4 is about anything, it is about finding that new dish”.

Mr Katz said while some of Channel 4’s commissioning plans had to be paused during the pandemic, they were planning to “double down” on their scripted drama, comedy and reality content over the next three years.

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He said the channel has earmarked more than £100 million extra cumulatively over those three years to produce such content, which he described as a “significant dialling up”.

Mr Katz said he was really interested in TV that has “real consequences”, noting their Jeremy Kyle documentary was a prime example.

The session also saw Channel 4’s head of specialist factual, Shaminder Nahal, describe the broadcaster’s new documentary about Diana, Princess of Wales as “so special”. Investigating Diana: Death in Paris explores the French and UK police investigations that followed her death in a car crash in Paris 1997.

Ms Nahal said the documentary plays out almost like a police procedural.

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She said the channel wants to be “provocative and challenging” with their documentaries, and that in another programme they will take a “forensic, tough look at history” focusing on the partition of India through a modern-day lens and how Britain’s action caused long-term consequences.

Channel 4 also teased a trailer of their new drama starring Kate Winslet and her daughter Mia Threapleton. The drama will see the Titanic star as a single mother struggling to parent her teen.

The scene showed Winslet and Threapleton, her daughter with first husband Jim Threapleton, having a relatable mother-daughter argument after the daughter caught her mother talking about her on the phone.

Caroline Hollick, head of drama at Channel 4, described the show as “raw and powerful”.

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Hollick announced that other dramas on their roster include an epic thriller titled The Gathering about a violent incident that happens at a party and the teenage suspects.

Another is Somewhere Boy, which will show what it is like being a boy in Britain, and Dance School about people passionate about dance.

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