BBC faces call to compensate Panorama whistleblowers over Diana warnings

The BBC should consider paying compensation to whistleblowers who raised concerns about the way its interview with Diana, Princess of Wales was obtained, a senior Tory MP has said.

The corporation is facing intense pressure after the damning report by Lord Dyson found it covered up the “deceitful behaviour” of journalist Martin Bashir.

Julian Knight, the chairman of the Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, said there was a need to strengthen editorial policy at the BBC, with less “kowtowing” to the “talent”.

He said the corporation should look at the way it treated insiders such as graphic designer Matt Wiessler who tried to expose Bashir’s methods.

Matt Wiessler
Graphic designer Matt Wiessler maybe due compensation, a senior MP has said (John Hall/ITV/PA)

Mr Wiessler complained he had been sidelined after he raised concerns that fake bank statements he mocked up for Bashir had been used by the journalist to persuade Diana to do the Panorama interview in 1995.

Mr Knight said Mr Wiessler clearly believed he had been badly treated and that BBC director-general Tim Davie should now meet him to hear directly what he had to say.

“He is clearly very emotional, he feels this has probably impaired his life to a certain degree,” Nr Knight told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

“I think the BBC needs to have a real open mind in terms of the possibility of compensation but also how it interacts with people like Mr Wiessler who clearly have faced quite profound consequences due to this fiasco.”

Mr Knight has already written to Mr Davie asking for an explanation as to how Bashir came to be rehired by the BBC as its religious affairs correspondent in 2016, even though it was known that he had lied over the bank statements.

Martin Bashir
MPs want an explanation as to how Martin Bashir came to be rehired by the BBC (Ian West/PA)

The MP said that some people may suspect that Bashir was given the job as a way of keeping quiet about what exactly he knew.

“That is certainly something which some may be suspicious about. I just want transparency and answers from the BBC,” he added.

Amid the continuing fallout from the Dyson report, Mr Knight suggested Lord Hall, the former BBC director-general who conducted a botched investigation into Bashir’s conduct, would have to consider stepping back from public life.

On Friday, former BBC executive Tim Suter, who was part of the 1996 internal investigation, stepped down from his board role with media watchdog Ofcom.

Mr Knight said he suspected that Lord Hall would now be having “conversations” as to whether it was appropriate for him to continue as the chairman of the board of trustees at the National Gallery.

“If you had been subject to a report of this nature, this damning, I think you would consider whether or not you should take a step back from the public stage,” he told Times Radio.

Lord Hall
Lord Hall is facing calls to step back from public life (Yui Mok/PA)

Despite the furore, Mr Knight said that he did not believe it would affect the BBC’s negotiations with the Government over the licence fee.

“I think that the Government is committed to renewing the charter,” he said.

“There will be a discussion over whether or not they offer a flat cash offer to the BBC or whether or not they have an inflation-linked increase to the licence fee.

“But I don’t think, per se, this scandal will impact those negotiations.”

While Mr Knight said there was a need for reform, he questioned a proposal by former BBC chairman Lord Grade for a new editorial board.

“I do wonder whether or not it will be a talking shop full of people with big salaries. The BBC does have a lot of boards,” he told the Today programme.

“What I would propose is that Tim Davie thinks again on his decision to remove the head of editorial policy of the executive committee.

“I do have concerns with the BBC that editorial policy does not have a loud enough voice and there is a bit of kowtowing to talent.”