Bashir interview scandal sparks BBC review of editorial practices

Broadcaster’s whistleblowing processes and rehiring of journalist to be scutinised

The BBC will review its editorial practices and investigate why the corporation rehired Martin Bashir five years ago despite evidence that he had used deception to secure his 1995 Panorama interview with Princess Diana. The BBC's board said it had launched an investigation into its news division's editorial culture after an inquiry by retired judge John Dyson was highly critical of Bashir's behaviour and his bosses' handling of it.

“We accepted Lord Dyson’s findings in full and reiterate the apology we have offered to all those affected by the failings identified. We recognise the impact that the events it describes has had on so many people, not least those whose lives were personally affected by what happened. We also acknowledge that audiences had a right to expect better from the BBC,” the board said in a statement.

“Lord Dyson’s report speaks to historic failings of oversight and these should be reflected upon. We must not just assume that mistakes of the past cannot be repeated today – we must make sure that this is the case.”

Editorial culture

The three board members who will investigate the corporation's editorial culture will include Robbie Gibb, a former Downing Street director of communications who has been highly critical of the BBC and was involved in setting up a rival news channel GB News. It will be chaired by former Tate gallery director Nicholas Serota and the third member will be former newspaper editor Ian Hargreaves.


“The board will look at the culture of the BBC as part of its remit to assess the effectiveness of policies and practice,” the statement said. “Their work will focus on oversight of the BBC’s editorial practices and will consider in detail the robustness and independence of whistleblowing processes in editorial areas.”

BBC chairman Richard Sharp said he did not know why Bashir was rehired in 2016 as religious affairs correspondent and later promoted to religious affairs editor before resigning from the corporation days before the publication of Lord Dyson's report.

Journalistic standards

“I take comfort from the fact that Martin Bashir is no longer here. I don’t take comfort yet from understanding why he was rehired. We will find that out,” he told Radio 4’s World at One.

Culture minister John Whittingdale told MPs that the Dyson report made shocking reading that detailed not just a failure to uphold basic journalistic standards, but also an unwillingness to investigate complaints and to discover the truth.

Julian Knight, the chairman of the Commons digital, culture, media and sport committee, used parliamentary privilege to suggest that Bashir should be investigated by the police.

“Lord Dyson’s report was utterly damning. Put simply, Mr Bashir obtained fame and fortune by instituting document forgery and callously scaring a mentally vulnerable woman – not a mistake as he claims in the Sunday Times but something with more than a whiff of criminality about it. The BBC then covered this up, blackballing whistleblowers and ensuring its own reporters didn’t report on Bashir,” he said.

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times