Ex-BBC bosses face grilling over Bashir
By Paul Revoir Media Editor
FORMER BBC bosses Lord Hall and Lord Birt will appear before MPs next week to be grilled over the Martin Bashir Panorama scandal. Tony Hall was director of news when the bombshell interview with Princess Diana aired in 1995, while John Birt was director-general of the corporation. The actions of both men came under fierce scrutiny in Lord Dyson’s devastating report published last month into the programme and its aftermath. The retired judge not only condemned the ‘deceitful’ methods Bashir had used to secure the interview, but also described the BBC’s subsequent internal investigation, conducted by Lord Hall, as ‘woefully ineffective’. He and Lord Birt, 76, will be questioned by the Commons digital, culture, media and sport committee on Tuesday. MPs said yesterday they will ask about the ‘events leading up to Panorama’s landmark interview’ and the ‘ broadcaster’s handling of investigations’ into how Bashir obtained the scoop, including the internal probe carried out by Lord Hall in 1996. MPs will look at Dyson’s findings, including those about the use of faked bank statements to ‘gain access’ to the princess via her brother Earl Spencer. Lord Hall, 70, was appointed BBC director-general in 2013 and held the post until last year. In the wake of the Dyson report, he stepped down as chairman of the National Gallery, saying he did not want to be a ‘distraction’ for the institution. Lord Birt was director-general from 1992 until 2000. It emerged last week that former BBC chairman Marmaduke Hussey had attempted to force him out of the BBC after the Diana interview. Tim Davie, Lord Hall’s successor in the role, will also appear before the committee, as will the new BBC chairman, Richard Sharp, to discuss the implications of the Dyson report for the corporation. The BBC is due next week to publish another investigation into the circumstances surrounding Bashir being rehired in 2016 after a 17-year hiatus. He rejoined the corporation as religious affairs correspondent, despite questions surrounding his conduct at Panorama and controversies at ITV and two US broadcasters, and was promoted to religion editor. Bashir, 58, resigned from the BBC last month on health grounds, meaning he continues to be paid an estimated £2,000 a week while his notice period runs down. Yesterday at a Financial Times Live event called Future Of News, Mr Davie was asked whether BBC staff may leave as a result of the findings from the rehiring probe, but said it was ‘way too early to speculate’. He described the Bashir scandal as ‘pretty grim affair’ and a ‘very serious incident’. He added the ‘worry’ for the BBC was of losing ‘trust’.