BBC’s reputation badly tarnished by Panorama scandal, says culture minister

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The reputation of the BBC has been “badly tarnished” by the Panorama interview scandal but there are no plans to dismantle or defund the corporation, the culture minister has said.

John Whittingdale told MPs the fact that the failures had taken place at the UK’s national broadcaster was “an even greater source of shame”.

In his report, Lord Dyson, a former master of the rolls, said journalist Martin Bashir used “deceitful conduct” to obtain the 1995 interview with Diana, Princess of Wales, which was then covered up by a “woefully ineffective” internal investigation.

Martin Bashir
Martin Bashir (Ian West/PA)

Speaking during an urgent question on the inquiry’s findings, Mr Whittingdale told the Commons: “Lord Dyson’s report makes shocking reading.

“It details not just an appalling failure to uphold basic journalistic standards, but also an unwillingness to investigate complaints and to discover the truth.

“That these failures occurred at our national broadcaster is an even greater source of shame.

“The new leadership at the BBC deserves credit for setting up an independent inquiry and for accepting its findings in full, however the reputation of the BBC, its most precious asset, has been badly tarnished and it is right that the BBC board and wider leadership now consider urgently how confidence and trust in the corporation can be restored.

“It is not for the Government to interfere in editorial decisions, but it is the job of government to ensure that there is a strong and robust system of governance at the BBC with effective external oversight.”

Julian Knight
Chairman of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, Julian Knight (Chris McAndrew/UK Parliament/PA)

Mr Whittingdale stressed the continued importance of the public service broadcaster, but said it had fallen short.

“In an era of fake news and disinformation, the need for public service broadcasting and trusted journalism has never been stronger,” he said.

“The BBC has been and should be a beacon, setting standards to which others can aspire.

“That it has fallen short so badly has damaged its reputation both here and across the world.

“The BBC now needs urgently to demonstrate that these failings have been addressed and that this can never happen again.”

Responding to Labour former frontbencher Diane Abbott, Mr Whittingdale there was “no question of dismantling the BBC or defunding it”.

He added: “The BBC is a priceless national asset and one of the most serious consequences of the revelations of the last week is that the reputation and trust of the BBC have been badly damaged.”

Chairman of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, Julian Knight, said Lord Dyson’s report “leaves still more unanswered questions”.

The Conservative MP told the Commons: “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.”

Lord Hall
Former BBC director-general Lord Hall (David Parry/PA)

Former director-general Lord Hall, who led an internal investigation into the interview in 1996, is facing questions over why Mr Bashir was rehired by the BBC in 2016.

Mr Knight said his sources claimed Mr Bashir was not interviewed but “simply appointed”.

The BBC said in a statement: “We are investigating the circumstances around the hiring of Martin Bashir in 2016.

“We have written to Julian Knight to say the information he was given and referred to in his comments in the House this afternoon is not correct, and we can confirm there was an interview process for this position, and that Martin Bashir was interviewed as part of that.”

Conservative former minister Alun Cairns argued BBC reform is required, telling the Commons: “The BBC has seen a string of recent public scandals from Jimmy Savile to the treatment of Lord McAlpine and Sir Cliff Richard and many others.

“All have stemmed from a drive to secure sensationalist media headlines along with groupthink and ‘we know best’ approach.”

For Labour, shadow culture secretary Jo Stevens said: “Clearly Mr Bashir should not have been re-employed by the BBC in 2016. The internal inquiry by the BBC into the interview was wholly inadequate.”

However, she added people must remember the BBC is “bigger than Martin Bashir, it is bigger than Panorama, bigger than other programmes and even bigger than the current affairs department”, and called it a “trusted” source.