Newsnight is a weekday BBC Television current affairs programme which specialises in analysis and often robust cross-examination of senior politicians. Jeremy Paxman was its main presenter for 25 years, until announcing in April 2014 that he was stepping down.
Several of the programme's editors over the years have gone on to senior positions within the BBC and elsewhere. The programme's regular presenters are currently Kirsty Wark, Emily Maitlis, and Evan Davis.
Newsnight has been broadcast on BBC2 since 1980. It goes out on weekday evenings between 10:30pm and 11:20pm. Occasionally it may have an extended edition if there is an especially significant event in the news – as happened on 7 July 2011, when the closure of the News of the World led to a programme which continued until 11:35 pm. Recent editions are available to view and download for a limited time through the BBC iPlayer. A weekly 26-minute digest edition of Newsnight is screened on the corporation's international channel, BBC World News.
Newsnight began on 28 January 1980 at 10.45pm, although a short news bulletin using the same title had run on BBC2 during the 1970s. Its launch was delayed for four months by the Association of Broadcasting Staff, at the time the main BBC trade union. 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". 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. Newsnight is now wholly managed by BBC News.
Until 1988, the start time of Newsnight was flexible, so BBC2 could screen a movie at 9:30pm to dovetail with the conclusion of the main news on BBC1. 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 his even being informed. The affair sparked a widely reported row within the corporation. One protagonist said it would "destroy the BBC". 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.
On 13 May 1997, 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.
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. In 2004, Paxman raised the subject again with Howard, by then leader of the Conservative Party to get a final answer. This time, Howard laughed it off, saying that he had not threatened to overrule the head of the Prison Service. During Paxman's final show on 18 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."
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".
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. 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.
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 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. An apology about the story was made on 9 November during that evening's broadcast of the programme. In an official statement, the BBC announced all ongoing Newsnight investigations were being suspended. The Director of BBC Scotland, Ken MacQuarrie, investigated the circumstances around the programme. His findings were published on 12 November, and stated that:
|“||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.
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", 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". The BBC announced that Newsnight editor Peter Rippon and deputy editor Liz Gibbons would be replaced.
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 has been presented by Kirsty Wark, Martha Kearney, John Wilson, Tim Marlow, Kwame Kwei-Armah and Hardeep Singh Kohli. Regular reviewers have 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 has been replaced by The Review Show, produced from Glasgow, which started on 22 January 2010. It has the same producer as Newsnight Review and is still presented by Kirsty Wark and Martha Kearney.
Traditionally, there is 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." 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 and Britain withdrawing from the European Union a right-wing Conservative MP argued for a return to the broadcasting of God Save the Queen at the end of BBC 1 transmissions each day. The practice was dropped in 1997. That evening, Newsnight ended its broadcast with Kirsty Wark saying that they were happy to accede to Rosindell's request, before playing out to the video of the Sex Pistols' punk song of the same name.
Newsnight is available within the UK via broadband on BBC iPlayer for up to seven days after broadcast. It can be found on the Newsnight website or via a search for "Newsnight" on the BBC iPlayer. A weekly digest version of Newsnight is screened on the corporation's international news channel, BBC World News but focuses on international stories.
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.
|October 1993–present||Kirsty Wark||Main presenter (alternate)|
|March 2006–present||Emily Maitlis|
|September 2014–present||Evan Davis|
|Nick Watt||Political Editor|
|Mark Urban||Diplomatic and Defence Editor|
|David Grossman||Culture and Technology Editor|
|Chris Cook||Policy Editor|
|Helen Thomas||Business Editor|
|Stephen Smith||Culture Correspondent|