There is no evidence that Martin Bashir was rehired by the BBC in 2016 as part of a “cover-up” or to contain the events surrounding the “deceitful” way he secured his 1995 interview with Princess Diana, a review has found.
Bashir returned to the corporation as religious affairs correspondent but questions emerged over his appointment four years ago after a review last month found he commissioned fake bank statements in a “serious breach” of the BBC’s producer guidelines to secure the interview.
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His role was later upgraded to become religion editor in 2018 after a review questioned the BBC’s commitment to religious coverage.
The religion editor role was only advertised externally on the BBC website for six days – 30 August to 5 September 2016 – and Bashir had already been shortlisted before the advert went live after meeting then head of news James Harding for a coffee.
Ken MacQuarrie, the former BBC director of nations and regions asked to carry out the review into Bashir’s 2016 rehiring, concluded that the recruitment process was “targeted at finding the right person for the role”.
“Although there were some shortcomings in the process by which he was re-employed, I am satisfied that he was ultimately appointed because his knowledge and experience were considered to be the best match to the requirements for the role at that time,” he said.
“I have found no evidence that Martin Bashir was re-hired to contain and/or cover up the events surrounding the 1995 Panorama programme. In my view, that theory is entirely unfounded.”
MacQuarrie added that no one involved in the recruitment process had full knowledge of the circumstances around Bashir’s Diana interview, as revealed in the Dyson report last month.
“I have no doubt that if any of the individuals involved in the appointment of Martin Bashir in 2016 had been aware of what is now publicly known as a result of the Dyson Report, Martin Bashir would have never been reappointed to the BBC,” he said.
BBC director-general Tim Davie said the review showed the recruitment process was “conducted in good faith”.
“While the report finds processes were largely followed at the time, it is clear we need to reflect on the findings to ensure consistent best practice is applied in our recruitment,” he added.
Harding, now co-founder of slow news venture Tortoise, decided he wanted to interview Bashir and one internal candidate at the second stage before a job advert was posted externally, the review found.
An interview panel of Harding, then-head of current affairs Joanna Carr and Jonathan Munro, then-head of newsgathering and now BBC deputy director of news, unanimously selected Bashir as the preferred candidate and the decision was ultimately made by Harding.
MacQuarrie said that although he felt the process was aimed at finding the right person for the job, he had concerns about how fair and transparent it was and felt Bashir had been viewed as the leading candidate from an early stage – disadvantaging other potential candidates.
He noted Harding had already decided he wanted to interview Bashir before an advert for external candidates had been published and before Bashir had submitted an application.
BBC UK news editor Richard Burgess, one of the team who shortlisted Bashir ahead of his interview, told an internal candidate there was an external candidate who was “the favourite”. That person then felt it was a “done deal” and undermined their confidence in the process, MacQuarrie said.
Harding told MacQuarrie he added the internal candidate to the process to ensure competition and that he generally tried to limit the number of candidates in the second round given the time pressures of his job.
MacQuarrie said although it was “very clear that Martin Bashir was the favourite” he did not think Harding selected the other candidate “simply to give the perception of a competitive process”.
Another external candidate had met Harding and Munro for coffee to talk about the role, as Bashir had also done. But, MacQuarrie said, while Bashir was notified of the job advert once it went live, this candidate was not.
MacQuarrie said: “Despite these shortcomings, I am however satisfied that Martin Bashir was never guaranteed the role, nor considered unassailable by those involved in the recruitment process, including James Harding.”
He added that Bashir was told several times the BBC would need to complete its internal process before looking externally, that he himself had described it as a “possibility (without promise)” that he might join the BBC, and that he was anxiously awaiting the results of the process until the day before his appointment was announced.
A further internal candidate was also asked if they would consider the role after Bashir’s interview.
Of speculation about the involvement of Lord Tony Hall, then director-general, Harding said: “There was no nod. There was no wink. BBC News hired him.” MacQuarrie accepted that Lord Hall was not involved.
In his examination of what those involved in the interview process knew about Bashir’s past misconduct, MacQuarrie found out Munro had been in touch with former Panorama editor Steve Hewlett to ask what happened.
Munro was told about a handwritten letter from Princess Diana saying she had not been misled by Bashir and that Lord Hall had not investigated further. Munro said he therefore felt the allegations were “spent” as Hewlett told him it was more a case of a naive reporter overstepping the mark rather than something “more worrying”.
Harding said he had not made his own efforts to conduct due diligence on Bashir nor spoken to Lord Hall about the events around the Diana programme.
MacQuarrie said: “It would not have been reasonable to expect Jonathan Munro or James Harding to reinvestigate the incidents surrounding the 1995 Panorama programme at that stage.
“Notwithstanding that, I think it would have been appropriate for James Harding to have a discussion with Tony Hall about this matter, to ensure that he was properly informed.”
Bashir had also previously been suspended from US broadcaster ABC for making “crude and sexist comments” and resigned from MNSBC over remarks he made about politician Sarah Palin.
Munro said he had discussed both incidents with Harding and viewed the first as a “misjudged joke” that had not been made on air. He said they felt the Palin incident could disregarded as Bashir was not being hired to cover US politics or global diplomacy.
MacQuarrie said these events were not given “sufficient regard” by Harding as the individual ultimately responsible for the appointment.
NUJ response condemns ‘cappuccino culture’
The National Union of Journalists has said the review “fails to fully assuage concerns over cappuccino culture, dodgy recruitment practices and judgement of senior managers”.
General secretary Michelle Stanistreet said it was “hard to agree” with the review’s findings the recruitment process searched only for the best person for the role. She said the 2016 process was “fundamentally lacking in integrity”.
“The NUJ was regularly demanding an end to so-called cappuccino interviews and stitched-up recruitment processes back in 2014 and 2015, ahead of Martin Bashir’s re-hiring in 2016,” Stanistreet said.
“Our objections to his and many other appointments – made whilst the BBC was making sweeping cuts and spending vast sums on needless redundancies – were brushed aside and dodgy recruitment practices denied. Decisions on hiring Bashir were made over cosy coffees.”
She added questions over the BBC’s lack of judgment were not “expunged” with this report and questioned how senior BBC executives did not consider Bashir’s previous questionable behaviour “worthy of pause for thought”.
“Why is there no reference in this review to the pretty remarkable step Peter Horrocks, then BBC head of current affairs, took in 2000 to write to ITV and complain in unvarnished terms about Bashir’s unethical treatment of BBC journalists, citing attempts to discredit them and sabotage their Panorama investigation into Harold Shipman,” Stanistreet went on.
“The allegations in that letter are shocking stuff, about behaviour clearly known to many back in 2000. Yet on rehiring him in 2016 the BBC in its own press release said Bashir’s ‘track record in enterprising journalism is well known and respected’.
“It’s disappointing that an important opportunity to address this damaging issue fails to hit the mark.”
BBC Board review
The BBC has also published the terms of reference for a review into the effectiveness of its editorial policies and governance announced by the Board after the Dyson report into Bashir’s actions.
It will look into:
- The management oversight of, and accountability for, the BBC’s current editorial decision-making processes, prior to and following transmission/publication
- The processes and procedures that now exist for staff, freelancers or others to raise concerns about non-compliance with BBC Editorial Values and Standards
- The effectiveness of the BBC’s whistleblowing procedures for raising concerns regarding editorial output and practices, including how the whistleblowing procedures connect with the BBC’s editorial complaints processes, and also the external regulation of BBC content
- Whether there is a culture within the organisation that supports compliance with BBC’s Editorial Values and Standards.
The review will begin this month and conclude in September, after which a report will be published.
It will be undertaken by a panel led by BBC Board senior independent director Sir Nicholas Serota. He will be joined by Professor Ian Hargreaves and Sir Robbie Gibb, both members of the BBC Board’s Editorial Guidelines and Standards Committee, plus external advisers Chris Banatvala, a consultant on editorial standards and media regulation, and Caroline Daniel, former FT Weekend editor.
Picture: PA Wire/Ian West