BBC head of current affairs Peter Horrocks has said he regrets paying £25,000 to ex-footballer George Best for an interview about his liver transplant.
The former Manchester United and Northern Ireland striker was paid for his involvement in the BBC1 programme George Best – Me and My Liver, broadcast in October 2002.
In the session Chequebook vs Notebook, Horrocks said: “Paying George Best wasn’t the right thing to do, and we wouldn’t do it now.”
Best had returned to drinking since the programme was broadcast, which Horrocks said “made me feel we’d done something inappropriate”.
It was wrong because of the amount spent and because the BBC ultimately did not get the story it sought, he added. He said he would like to talk to other broadcasters in a bid to determine specific levels of payment for stories.
In the same session BBC investigative journalist John Sweeney criticised the likes of publicity broker Max Clifford, who represents people who wish to sell their stories to the press.
Sweeney’s award-winning stories on cot deaths helped overturn the conviction of Angela Cannings for the murder of two of her children, and she went on to sell her story to ITV’s Tonight with Trevor MacDonald.
“Tonight didn’t do any of the journalism, they had more money. Now, I’m obviously pissed off about that but we can’t do anything about it,” he said.
“There is a problem with this kind of thing. There is a secret collusion between the interviewer and interviewee and the public aren’t told about it. And that’s wrong.”