Ken MacQuarrie, the BBC’s former director of nations and regions, was asked by BBC director general Tim Davie to examine the recruitment process that took place for BBC News’ religious affairs correspondent in September 2016, which culminated with the appointment of Bashir.
His re-hire has been branded “scandalous” in light of findings from Lord Dyson’s inquiry into the Princess Diana interview last month, which concluded that the former MSNBC anchor Bashir used fake bank statements to secure access to the Princess of Wales for Panorama in 1995. Dyson said it was a serious breach of BBC editorial guidelines.
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In an 11-page review, MacQuarrie concluded that Bashir was recruited because “his knowledge and experience were considered to be the best match to the requirements for the role at that time” and that “none of the individuals involved in the recruitment of Martin Bashir had knowledge of all of the matters contained in the Dyson Report.”
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Clearing BBC management of wrongdoing, he added: “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 did, however, identify “shortcomings” in the recruitment process, including that Bashir was fast-tracked to an interview after coffee meetings with former BBC News director James Harding and Jonathan Munro, the BBC’s head of newsgathering. MacQuarrie suggested this could have been an “unfair advantage,” but he was ultimately satisfied that Bashir “was never guaranteed the role, nor considered unassailable by those involved in the recruitment process.”
MacQuarrie also found that Munro carried out background checks on Bashir, during which the head of newsgathering was made aware that the reporter forged documents in order to secure the Princess Diana interview. Munro escalated his findings to Harding, but the matter was not investigated further.
Harding told MacQuarrie that he took full responsibility for the decision to re-hire Bashir and that he does not recall former BBC director general Tony Hall being involved in the process. Hall told MacQuarrie that he “played no part in selecting, choosing, nurturing, finding the religious affairs correspondent.”
Hall’s evidence is significant given he was in charge of BBC News at the time of the Princess Diana interview and was criticized in Dyson’s report for conducting an inadequate investigation into Bashir’s wrongdoing. Hall has since conceded that his original inquiry “fell well short of what was required” and he was “wrong to give Martin Bashir the benefit of the doubt.”
MacQuarrie said: “Some individuals appear to have been of the view that the Director General had sanctioned the appointment. I have seen no evidence to support the idea that there was sign off of Martin Bashir by Tony Hall prior to the appointment. However, I consider that he would have at least known of the decision to appoint Martin Bashir.”
Julian Knight, chair of UK Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, said he was “deeply concerned” by MacQuarrie’s findings. “That the BBC considered rehiring Martin Bashir when there were high level doubts over his integrity stretches incredulity to breaking point. By this point, as the Dyson report concluded, senior members of the BBC knew that Bashir had lied about the use of faked bank statements to gain access to Princess Diana,” he said.
BBC director general Tim Davie said: “It is without doubt that had the organisation been aware of what is now publicly known because of the Dyson Report Martin Bashir would have never been reappointed.”
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