A BBC boss tipped to land a powerful job running the Corporation’s news coverage sought assurances from Martin Bashir that he would not talk publicly about his infamous interview with Princess Diana – just weeks before the full extent of the rogue reporter’s deception was finally exposed.
Internal BBC emails obtained by The Mail on Sunday reveal that Jonathan Munro, head of BBC news gathering, contacted Bashir ahead of last November’s 25th anniversary of the Panorama special.
He wanted to know if the then BBC religion editor intended to co-operate with a series of documentaries by rival broadcasters about the programme that were set to cause embarrassment for the BBC by showing how Bashir used duplicity to land his scoop.
Bashir eventually confirmed to Mr Munro: ‘I do not plan to say anything about the interview.’
Mr Munro’s concerns appear to have reflected a mounting nervousness among BBC bosses that the Corporation was about to be rocked by a major scandal.
Email exchange: Internal BBC emails reveal that Jonathan Munro (pictured above), head of BBC news gathering, contacted Martin Bashir ahead of last November’s 25th anniversary of the Panorama special
It came six weeks before the BBC released explosive documents from a 1996 internal inquiry into how Bashir obtained the interview. The inquiry had been ordered after whistleblowers alerted bosses to concerns about the reporter’s methods.
Just three weeks after the BBC disclosed the documents, Diana’s brother Earl Spencer released notes which exposed how Bashir used a string of vile smears and lies to persuade her to speak to him on camera.
Mr Munro’s email exchange with Bashir, obtained using Freedom of Information laws and heavily redacted by the BBC, will prove embarrassing for the executive, who is among those vying to replace Fran Unsworth as the Corporation’s director of news and current affairs.
Mr Munro, 55, has been nicknamed ‘Macavity’ by critics for his ability to evade the blame for crises.
The emails reveal that Mr Munro sent Bashir a message on September 4, 2020, when the reporter was on sick leave.
Mr Munro asked: ‘Did XXX at ITV ask you to do an interview to mark 25 years since the Diana programme? Just wondered how you’d replied if so. All the best, J.’
It came six weeks before the BBC released explosive documents from a 1996 internal inquiry into how Bashir (above) obtained the interview. The inquiry had been ordered after whistleblowers alerted bosses to concerns about the reporter’s methods
Just three weeks after the BBC disclosed the documents, Diana’s brother Earl Spencer released notes which exposed how Bashir used a string of vile smears and lies to persuade her to speak to him on camera (pictured: Diana during the Panorama interview)
The BBC did not disclose Bashir’s reply but just over three hours later, Mr Munro sent another email seeking clarification from the reporter ‘that you are not taking part in any programme or coverage of the anniversary’. He added: ‘Do correct me if I’ve misread that point.’
Bashir then put Mr Munro’s mind at rest, writing: ‘I do not plan to say anything.’ A BBC insider said: ‘These emails reflect Jonathan Munro’s concern that Bashir would confirm wrongdoing in the Diana affair and thus bring into question his own judgment in reappointing him. Jonathan Munro is all about Jonathan Munro. It’s all self-defence and self-interest.’
Mr Munro was on the interview panel when Bashir rejoined the BBC as religious affairs correspondent in September 2016. He discovered Bashir had faked documents to land his Panorama interview but because Princess Diana had provided a letter to say she had not been misled, he considered the allegations ‘spent’.
Last night, the BBC said: ‘Since all BBC journalists are required to seek permission for external media interviews, there is nothing unusual about a manager asking a journalist whether he has accepted an external media interview request.’