Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden has backed Sky News’s decision not to sack presenter Kay Burley and political editor Beth Rigby over Covid breaches.
“I have great respect for Kay Burley and Beth Rigby as journalists,” he told Times Radio. “They’ve apologised, they’ve come off air.
“I think that is a suitable response.”
Burley will be off air for six months following an internal inquiry, while Rigby and correspondent Inzamam Rashid will be absent for three months.
The channel described them as agreed absences, rather than suspensions.
Sky’s inquiry concluded that the trio broke Covid regulations on a night out for Burley’s 60th birthday at the weekend.
It is believed that 10 people went to a restaurant in London, split over two tables, which Burley said she believed at the time was “Covid-compliant”.
She then briefly went into another restaurant before some members of the group moved on to a private residence, where individuals from at least three households mixed, the BBC has been told.
“I have today agreed with Sky News to step back from my broadcasting role for a period of reflection,” Burley wrote on Twitter on Thursday.
“It’s clear to me that we are all in the fight against Covid-19 and that we all have a duty to stick firmly by the rules.
“It doesn’t matter that I thought I was Covid-compliant on a recent social event. The fact is I was wrong, I made a big mistake, and I am sorry.
“Some dear friends and colleagues – some of the most talented and committed professionals in our business – have been pulled into this episode and I regret this enormously.
“I was one of the founding presenters on Sky News. No-one is prouder of our channel’s reputation, the professionals on our team, and the impact we make.
“I very much look forward to being able to continue my 32-year career with Sky when I return.”
On Thursday, the channel said it had completed an “internal review into the conduct of a small number of team members who attended a social event” on Saturday.
“Over the course of the evening, Covid guidelines were breached,” a statement said. “Sky News expects all team members to fully comply with the Covid restrictions. All those involved regret the incident and have apologised.
“Following our review of what took place on 5th December, we have agreed with Beth Rigby (Political Editor) and Inzamam Rashid (News Correspondent) that they will not be on air for three months, and we have agreed with Kay Burley (Breakfast Show Presenter) that she will not be on air for six months.”
The channel did not say whether they would still be paid while off air.
Sky added that presenter Sam Washington, who was also off air while the internal review took place, will be back at work next week.
Burley, who joined Sky News in 1988 and has hosted the breakfast show since October 2019, first offered an apology on Monday, saying she had been “at a Covid-compliant restaurant” but “inadvertently broke the rules” by popping to use the toilet in the second restaurant.
London is under tier two restrictions, which means people are not allowed to socialise with anyone from outside their household or support bubble indoors, either in a private home or a public place.
Some venues have outdoor seating and you are able to meet in a group of up to six people outside, including in a garden or in a public place.