Sky News pulls anchor, reporters from channel after COVID breach

The logo of Sky News. (Logo: Sky/Comcast, Graphic designed by The Desk)

Comcast-owned Sky News has pulled a veteran news anchor and three other broadcast journalists after they violated public restrictions to attend a birthday celebration at a London restaurant on Saturday.

The birthday dinner was in honor of Kay Burley, the breakfast anchor at Sky News and the channel’s longest-serving on-air talent.

After photographs from the dinner were leaked to a British tabloid, Burley posted an apology on Twitter, calling the celebration “an error in judgment.” She said the celebration took place at a “COVID-compliant restaurant” but that she “inadvertently broke the rules” later in the evening when she visited a nearby business to use the restroom.

Photographs published by news organizations showed Burley embracing her Sky colleagues at close distance in a matter that violated social distancing guidelines.

At a staff meeting on Monday, Sky News executives said Burley and three others were suspended for violating public restrictions in the wake of the global coronavirus pandemic. The other three suspended employees were identified in news reports as political editor Beth Rigby, anchor Sam Washington and correspondent Inzamam Rashid.

The news channel said it would launch an internal investigation to determine what exactly happened at the celebration.

“We place the highest importance on complying with the government guidelines on COVID, and we expect all our people to comply,” a Sky News spokesperson told the Guardian newspaper. “We were disappointed to learn that a small number of Sky News staff may have engaged in activity that breached the guidelines. Although this took place at a social event in personal time, we expect all our people to follow the rules that are in place for everyone.”

Burley assumed command of Sky’s morning news program at a time when the United Kingdom was still struggling to respond to the coronavirus health pandemic. Her show has grabbed headlines in recent months for her pointed interviews with politicians in which she often shed light on politicians who appeared to have misplaced priorities or were saying one thing only to do something else.

For this reason, Sky News executives are said to be “furious” with the presenter, according to inside sources who spoke with other British media outlets.

Sky’s own on-air talent have also expressed their displeasure with the morning news host, a rare instance of newsroom employees publicly criticizing their colleagues in some of the harshest terms.

“My view is that Sky has worked very hard during the whole COVID crisis and has taken a very clear line about public safety, and obviously something like this perhaps underlines that,” Adam Boulton, a fellow news presenter on the channel, told The Guardian in an interview.

Burley says she intends to spend part of her suspension on a pre-planned vacation to Africas. Some at the channel believe she won’t be back until next year.

“The longer it goes on the worse it gets and the harder it is to see this ending without serious punishment,” an unnamed news producer said.