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BBC Newsnight

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Title: BBC Newsnight  
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BBC Newsnight

For the CNN programme, see NewsNight with Aaron Brown.

Genre News and current affairs
Created by BBC News
Presented by Jeremy Paxman
Kirsty Wark
Gavin Esler
Emily Maitlis
Theme music composer George Fenton
Country of origin United Kingdom
Original language(s) English
Producer(s) BBC News
Editor(s) Ian Katz
Location(s) Studio B, Broadcasting House, London
Running time 50 minutes
Original channel BBC Two
BBC HD (2012–13)
Picture format 576i (16:9 SDTV)
1080i (HDTV)
Original run 30 January 1980 – present
Related shows Newsnight Scotland
The Review Show
External links

Newsnight is a daily BBC Television current affairs programme which specialises in analysis and often robust cross-examination of senior politicians. Jeremy Paxman has been its main presenter for over two decades.[1]

Several of the programme's editors over the years have gone on to senior positions within the BBC and elsewhere. Along with Paxman, the programmes regular presenters are Kirsty Wark,[2] Gavin Esler,[3] and Emily Maitlis.[4]

Newsnight has been broadcast on BBC Two 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 closure of the News of the World led to an extended programme which continued until 11:35 pm. Recent editions are available to view and download for a limited time through the BBC iPlayer.[5] A weekly 26-minute digest edition of Newsnight is screened on the corporation's international channel, BBC World News.


Newsnight began on 30 January 1980, 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.[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 Lime Grove Studios. Staff feared job cuts.

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 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".[8] Newsnight moved to new facilities at Broadcasting House on 15 October 2012.

From Monday to Thursday on BBC Two Scotland the offshoot, Newsnight Scotland, presented by Gordon Brewer, replaces the final twenty minutes of the UK programme.

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


On 13 May 1997 Paxman pressed Michael Howard, Home Secretary, about a meeting with Derek Lewis, head of the Prison Service, 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.[9]

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 materialize.[10] In 2004 Paxman raised the subject again with Howard, by then leader of the Conservative Party. This time, Howard laughed it off, saying that he had not threatened to overrule the head of the Prison Service.

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".[11][12][13]

Coverage of sexual abuse scandals

Main article: Jimmy Savile sexual abuse scandal

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.[14] 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.[15]

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[16] 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.[17] An apology about the story was made on 9 November during that evening's broadcast of the programme.[18] In an official statement, the BBC announced all ongoing Newsnight investigations were being suspended.[19] The Director of BBC Scotland, Ken MacQuarrie, investigated the circumstances around the programme. His findings were published on 12 November, and stated that:[20]
"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.[20]

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",[21] 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".[22] The BBC announced that Newsnight editor Peter Rippon and deputy editor Liz Gibbons would be replaced.[22]

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 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.[23][24] 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."[25] 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 24 April 2006 edition 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 Exchange 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.

International edition and other media

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[26] or via a search for "Newsnight" on the BBC iPlayer.[27] A weekly digest version of Newsnight is screened on the corporation's international news channel, BBC World News.

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. The BBC's commercial US channel, which is available in more than 63 million American homes via digital, cable and satellite, in the spring of 2009, dropped its daily simulcast from the BBC World News channel, which aired between 6am and 9am, because of disappointing ratings. It reinstated the three-hour block due to customer demand, and later expanded it to four hours. The special edition of Newsnight, which featured a roundup of the best stories from the UK programme and was fronted by Paxman, was dropped in November 2008.

KCET, an independent public television station in Los Angeles, broadcasts Newsnight (international version, a weekly round-up) [28] and presents it on USA-based public television stations.[29][30]

Current presenters

Years Presenter Current role
1989–present Jeremy Paxman Main presenter (Mon-Weds)
October 1993–present Kirsty Wark Main presenter (Thurs-Fri)
January 2003–present Gavin Esler
March 2006–present Emily Maitlis
January 2011–present Mishal Husain Occasional relief presenter
July 2012–present Eddie Mair
August 2013–present Victoria Derbyshire

Correspondents and Editors

Correspondent Role
Stephen Smith Cultural
Mark Urban Diplomatic and Defence
Tim Whewall Foreign (Middle East and Asia)
Peter Marshall Foreign (US and Europe)
Allegra Stratton UK Politics
Susan Watts Science

They also use well-known reporters from across the BBC News network; such as chief international correspondent Lyse Doucet, Jon Sopel and Yalda Hakim.

Past presenters

Newsnight editors

  • George Carey (1980–1981)
  • Ron Neil (1981–1982)
  • David Lloyd (1982–1983)
  • David Dickinson (1983–1985)
  • Richard Tait (1985–1987)
  • John Morrison (1987–1990)
  • Tim Gardam (1990–1993)
  • Peter Horrocks (1994–1997)
  • Sian Kevill (1998–2001)
  • George Entwistle (2001–2004)
  • Peter Barron (2004–2008)
  • Peter Rippon (2008–2012)
  • Karen O'Conner / Jamie Angus (Acting) (2012-2013)
  • Ian Katz 2013-



  • Newsnight 25 BBC mini-site to mark Newsnight's 25th anniversary in 2005
  • Newsnight at 20: the awkward squad, Broadcast, 28 January 2000

External links

  • BBC Programmes
  • Internet Movie Database
  • Paxarotti packs punch in Newsnight opera BBC News, 5 September 2003 - Newsnight: The Opera
  • weathers storm as forecast is axed The Guardian, 15 April 2005
  • Newsnight blogs:
    • Idle Scrawl BBC Blogs
    • Michael Crick's blog BBC Blogs
BBC portal
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