BBC: Rehiring Martin Bashir was ‘big mistake’, admits director-general

Journalist at centre of scandal working out three-month notice period, says corporation boss

Adam Forrest@adamtomforrest
Tuesday 25 May 2021 14:01
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Martin Bashir working three-month notice period, says BBC director-general

BBC director-general Tim Davie has admitted it was a “big mistake” for the corporation to rehire Martin Bashir in 2016 after serious questions had been raised about his conduct.

Mr Davie was speaking following Lord Dyson’s report – which criticised the “deceitful” methods Mr Bashir used to secure his 1995 Panorama interview with Princess Diana and the BBC’s “woefully ineffective” investigation the following year.

The director-general said he does not yet know why Mr Bashir was rehired, but revealed a “quick” investigation is under way and pledged the findings would be published next week.

“There’s no doubt with what you know now – it’s a big mistake,” Mr Davie told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Mr Bashir’s 2016 appointment as religion correspondent.

Asked if Mr Bashir is still being paid, Mr Davie said: “He’s working out a short [three-month] notice period because he resigned, and that’s where we are now.”

Mr Davie reflected on the “shocking” way in which BBC whistleblowers were treated regarding the 1995 Panorama interview, saying he would like to meet graphic designer Matt Wiessler.

Mr Wiessler complained that he had been sidelined after raising concerns that fake bank statements he mocked up for Mr Bashir had been used by the journalist to help secure the interview.

Mr Davie said: “I think some of the most disappointing and shocking elements of this, and there are multiple failings which we have apologised for, are things like the whistleblowing, how did that work?

“The very person who raised this – and I know many staff feel very strongly about this – the very person who raised this as an issue, suffered enormous impacts, which we’re very sorry for. That cannot happen again. We have improved processes but I want to look again at things.”

Asked if he thinks the BBC owes Mr Wiessler compensation, Mr Davie said it needs to go through a “legal discussion”, adding: “We’ll engage in that discussion because clearly we were at fault.”

The director-general said that reform needs to continue “at pace” at the BBC. “We’ve had a number of new editorial guidelines going through the system. And I have say I’m very proud of the BBC today and how it operates.

He added: “But I think you have to reflect on this. It was very, very serious.”

Mr Davie said he has “no intention” of airing Mr Bashir’s interview with Diana ever again. Pushed on whether he meant never any aspect of it, he said: “I think we need to discuss clips and reflect on that.”

The director-general was also asked if the BBC accepts that there was a direct line between what Mr Bashir did and Diana’s death in 1997. He replied: “I think we fully accept the Dyson report. I think beyond that … we are into speculation, and that’s where I am.”

Tory MP Julian Knight, chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee responded to Mr Davie’s interview, tweeting: “I think he struck the right note particularly when it came to the approach to whistleblowing.”

On Wednesday the BBC board announced that it will launch a review into the effectiveness of the broadcaster’s editorial policies and governance following the Dyson report.

The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee also announced that it will hold a session, expected to be in June, to examine questions raised by the report.

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