The BBC’s director general has been warned he risks undermining the corporation’s impartiality and high editorial standards if he appoints a journalist who supported the decision to send a helicopter over Sir Cliff Richard’s house as its head of news.
Jonathan Munro, the deputy director of BBC News, has defended a decision to fly a helicopter over Sir Cliff’s house in 2014, despite a court ruling that it breached the singer’s privacy.
Mr Munro has been touted as the next head of news at the BBC since Fran Unsworth, who currently holds the job, announced she planned to step down.
His appointment would be controversial because of his connection to two high profile incidents at the BBC that have led to criticism of the corporation.
The executive was also involved in the re-appointment of Martin Bashir to the BBC in 2016, after questions over his 1995 interview with Princess Diana.
Mr Munro denied in court that he was responsible for the decision to fly over Sir Cliff’s house, but said he “[did] not have any concerns” with the footage when questioned about it.
Speaking to The Telegraph, one source close to the licence fee settlement said: “This raises major question marks because of the Bashir situation, and also Cliff Richard.
"Two major black marks on the BBC’s editorial copybook in the last five years firmly rest at his door.
"Tim Davie has had many warm words about impartiality and about due editorial process, but one has to wonder whether he has the will to see through those fine words."
Jonathan Munro, deputy director of BBC News
Credit: Dominic Lipinski/PA
The BBC declined to comment on speculation about Mr Munro’s appointment, but the Telegraph understands the head of news job has yet to be formally advertised.
The Mail on Sunday reported that he is now considered the frontrunner to replace Ms Unsworth.
Sir Cliff sued the BBC for breach of privacy in 2018, after the corporation sent a helicopter over his house to film a police raid there.
South Yorkshire police had tipped off the BBC that the house was to be searched over claims of child sexual abuse. He was never charged after the Crown Prosecution Service ruled there was insufficient evidence.
Sir Cliff received £400,000 in damages from the police force and a further £210,000 from the BBC over the helicopter incident, which he said caused him “profound and long-lasting damage”. Mr Munro told the hearing he had ”reviewed the images which the BBC broadcast, including the helicopter footage”.
“I do not have any concerns about the broadcasting of these images,” he said.
Justin Rushbrooke QC, representing Sir Cliff, said: "If that is your genuine belief I suggest to you that you are unfit for your job."
Mr Munro’s name appeared in the newspapers again earlier this year, when the BBC investigated its decision to re-hire Mr Bashir in 2016, two decades since the Newsnight interview with Princess Diana he obtained partly by falsifying bank statements.
The review, led by the longstanding BBC executive Ken MacQuarrie, found that none of the executives on the panel that hired Mr Bashir knew the full details of his “deceitful behaviour” prior to the appointment.
Mr Munro, then head of newsgathering, told the review he had “some recollection” of a controversy over the interview.
The full details of Mr Bashir’s activities were not revealed until May 2021, when a separate inquiry by Lord Dyson concluded he had been responsible for a “serious breach” of editorial rules and that the BBC had conducted a “woefully ineffective” investigation into the interview.