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Martin Bashir: Broadcasters may have ‘looked the other way’ when hiring the journalist, Ex-ITN boss says

Written by on 22 May 2021

A former head of ITN has said Martin Bashir’s past behaviour may have been overlooked when broadcasters were employing him.

It comes after an independent inquiry found Mr Bashir, who has now left the BBC, “deceived and induced” Earl Spencer to secure a landmark interview with his sister, Diana, Princess of Wales.

Following the controversial interview, which was investigated internally by the BBC in 1996, the journalist went on to work for a number of broadcasters in the UK and in the US.

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Stewart Purvis led ITN – the production company that provides news to ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 – through the 1990s and 2000s.

He said that despite his notoriety, Bashir was able to deliver big-hitting interviews for his employers which may have forced them to look the other way when taking him on.

In 2003, Bashir interviewed Michael Jackson for ITV, which went on to become an eight-month investigation into the singer’s relationship with children on his Neverland Ranch in California.

Mr Purvis told Sky News that Bashir was “trying to constantly recreate another big interview”.

“And of course, he was able to do that with the Michael Jackson interview with ITV, which is much more than an interview, was a basically investigation,” he said.

“Broadcasters like people who deliver big stories, big exclusives. Will they look the other way, as Prince William said, about what the BBC bosses did in the case of the interview?

“Sometimes they probably used to do that. Would they do it nowadays? I’m not so sure.”

Bashir’s career began in the BBC, where he became known for his investigation into football manager Terry Venables, for which it is claimed some financial documents were faked to secure an interview.

He then landed the now-infamous interview with Diana, Princess of Wales, in 1995.

It was investigated by the corporation a year later, when Bashir was cleared of any wrongdoing, but the new report called the 1996 inquiry “woefully ineffective”.

His splash-landing skills were recognised by ITV, which commissioned his controversial Michael Jackson work.

While at ITV he also landed scoops with Lord Archer, which was criticised as a “total rip-off job”, and the five white suspects in the Stephen Lawrence murder case – two of whom were later convicted of the killing.

He went to the US to work for ABC – which dropped him after he made comments surrounding Asian women at a conference, which were later described as sexist.

He was also forced to resign from MSNBC, after labelling Sarah Palin “America’s resident dunce” and suggesting she ate human faeces.

Bashir later said his comments were “wholly unacceptable” and that it had been an “unworthy” choice of words.

Most recently, Bashir has been back at the BBC as religion editor, and kept a somewhat low profile, before resigning last weekend on health grounds.

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Mr Purvis described the BBC’s decision to take back the journalist as “inexplicable”, adding that the Jackson interview was the beginning of the end of Bashir’s career.

He said that doing things like appearing on X-Factor Celebrity in 2019 was Bashir “getting increasingly desperate to achieve some of the achievements of the past hits”.

“But it makes it more and more inexplicable why the BBC should hire him back,” he said.

The former news chief also said that Bashir had a “very strong negotiating position”, because of his perceived ability to secure interviews.

He said: “But from a broadcaster’s point of view, if somebody with Bashir’s track record, as it appeared at the time, why wouldn’t you sign him?”

Asked why he was hired despite his past known behaviours, the BBC said: “The post (of religion editor) was filled after a competitive interview process. We now of course have the Dyson report. We didn’t have it then.

“He has resigned from the BBC. There has been no pay off.”

Bashir and ITV have been contacted for comment but have not yet responded.