Huw Edwards to host BBC election night coverage

Newsreader gets nod for key broadcast after being linked with job five years ago

Huw Edwards has been confirmed as the host of the BBC’s election night coverage, taking one of the most high-profile jobs in British broadcasting more than five years after he was first linked with it.

He had originally been expected to succeed David Dimbleby as the face of the BBC’s election programme in time for the 2015 general election, only for BBC bosses to give Dimbleby one final chance to host the show.

The former Question Time host showed no interest in handing over the baton and successfully remained in the hot seat for both the 2016 EU referendum and the 2017 general election coverage.

Other BBC presenters due to have leading roles in the coverage include Reeta Chakrabarti, Andrew Neil, Tina Daheley and Jeremy Vine. Vine will be responsible for the swingometer, while the website will be publishing semi-automated journalism in stories on the election results for all 650 constituencies.

The BBC is preparing for criticism of its news coverage from all sides during the election, as political parties realise the effectiveness of rallying supporters by blaming the media for negative coverage.

The BBC’s head of news, Fran Unsworth, has already felt the need to warn audiences that during the election “everyone will hear people on BBC News they don’t agree with, and opinions they don’t share”. She said putting a particular political candidate on air did not indicate bias: “Interviewing is not ‘platforming’ and reporting someone’s words isn’t an endorsement of what they’ve said.”

She said the BBC’s journalists would be willing to call out falsehoods: “Our aim is to achieve due impartiality. That means understanding that not all issues are ‘on the one hand, on the other hand’. We do not support ‘false balance’. There are facts and there are judgments to be made. And we will make them where that is appropriate.”

Although the BBC is promising that Neil will interview party leaders one-on-one, it is still negotiating over party leader debates. Both Labour and the Conservatives are keen to only participate in head-to-head debates that exclude the Brexit party, Lib Dems and the SNP.

ITV has already struck a deal for a head-to-head debate between Jeremy Corbyn and Boris Johnson on 19 November but the BBC may find it harder as a publicly funded broadcaster to exclude smaller parties.

David Dimbleby in 2001.
David Dimbleby. Photograph: Richard Kendal/BBC One

This will be one of few recent elections without the involvement of a member of the Dimbleby family, who have been central to televised coverage of British general elections since 1955, when Richard Dimbleby began hosting the BBC’s programming.

David Dimbleby first appeared on a BBC election night broadcast as a junior reporter in 1964 alongside his father, who died the following year. This created a 15-year interregnum during which the public had to cope without a Dimbleby hosting the broadcast before David was promoted to the top job in time for Margaret Thatcher’s first victory in 1979.

David’s brother, Jonathan, the former host of Radio 4’s Any Questions, anchored ITV’s election night coverage between 1997 and 2005, meaning that for almost a decade terrestrial viewers had no choice but to learn the election results from a Dimbleby.

Emily Maitlis.
Emily Maitlis. Photograph: David Hartley/Rex/Shutterstock

In another first for the BBC, Newsnight presenter Emily Maitlis will front the coverage of the second day, after Edwards ends his broadcast – making her the first woman to be a sole anchor of the corporation’s general election programme.

Previously, Edwards hosted the second day’s coverage while Maitlis monitored the exit polls and results using a giant touchscreen.

Although other women have been involved in the BBC’s general election programmes, with Fiona Bruce being the first in 2001, it is believed that none have been the main host during the two days of coverage.

Maitlis said: “It’s hard to think of a day that will be more defining of our political futures than this one. This is not just about which seats change hands, but which party leaders stay or go, whether we remain in or exit the EU, and the fundamental direction of the entire United Kingdom. We will witness first-hand what the electorate make of the choices laid before them – and I can’t wait to be fronting a day that will be challenging, exhilarating, exhausting and probably game-changing.”


Jim Waterson and Tara Conlan

The GuardianTramp

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