The BBC’s governing body has launched an investigation into the culture of its news operation, as ministers said the circumstances of Martin Bashir’s interview with Diana, Princess of Wales could be used to justify reform of the national broadcaster.
The BBC’s board said it was confident the corporation’s internal processes had improved in the period since Bashir used fake invoices to gain the trust of Diana’s brother in an attempt to secure a Panorama interview with the royal.
However, it felt an investigation was required to make sure that managers are hitting high standards. The board said: “We must not just assume that mistakes of the past cannot be repeated today – we must make sure that this is the case.”
An independent report by Lord Dyson last week found multiple failings in how Bashir secured his interview with Diana, prompting damning statements from both Prince William and Prince Harry about the culture of the BBC.
The culture secretary, Oliver Dowden, said the investigation into how the BBC handled Bashir’s interview in 1995 could be used to justify “cultural change” at the corporation.
The Dyson report came at an awkward time for the broadcaster, which is already dealing with new media companies winning over its audiences while fighting a hostile government that has made repeated threats to change its funding and governance.
The BBC is also about to start negotiations on the next five-year licence fee settlement, which will decide how much money the corporation will have to spend from 2022 onwards.
The BBC board, which is overseen by the government-appointed BBC chairman and Conservative donor Richard Sharp, has appointed a three-strong team to investigate the corporation’s editorial policies.
The group includes Sir Robbie Gibb, the former director of communications for Theresa May, who was this month appointed to the board by Dowden. Gibb is a former head of the BBC’s political programming who later became a vocal critic of some of the corporation’s news output and helped to set up the forthcoming channel GB News.
The other two members on the panel are Sir Nicholas Serota and ex-BBC News boss Ian Hargreaves.
“The board will look at the culture of the BBC as part of its remit to assess the effectiveness of policies and practice,” said a spokesperson.
One particular area of concern raised by the report is the culture around BBC whistleblowers and whether individuals find themselves punished for raising concerns about the behaviour of other staff.
Matt Wiessler, the BBC graphic designer who mocked up the fake bank statements on Bashir’s orders, said he found his career curtailed after raising concerns about the activity.
Last week, he told the Guardian he had been made the “fall guy” to protect Bashir’s reputation and found himself blacklisted from working for the BBC after raising concerns about what had happened.
He said: “I have a great life now, but for 20 years I didn’t. I became a drifter in the West Country. I had the bailiffs at my door because I couldn’t pay my bills. I want the BBC to think: if I was this man, how would I want to be treated now?”
The National Union of Journalists said it welcomed the BBC board’s investigation into how the corporation treats whistleblowers but said that the corporation needed to fight for its future.
It said: “The BBC must act robustly and with complete transparency, and not allow interference from those who would seek to exploit this crisis for their own ends.”