BBC’s deceit over Diana interview worsened my parents’ relationship – William

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By Doug Faulkner-BBC News

https://www.bbc.com-image copyright PA Media

image caption Princes William (centre) and Harry (right) were children when the BBC interview was aired

The Duke of Cambridge has blamed BBC failings over its interview with his mother for fuelling her paranoia and worsening his parents’ relationship.

After an inquiry found the BBC fell below its standards, Prince William said he was “most saddened” Diana never learned she had been deceived.

Prince William said his mother was failed “not just by a rogue reporter” but also by BBC bosses.

The Duke of Sussex blamed a toxic culture for his mother’s death in 1997.

In his separate statement, Prince Harry said that the “ripple effect of a culture of exploitation and unethical practices” ultimately took his mother’s life.

He expressed concern that practices like these “are still widespread today”, saying it was “bigger than one outlet, one network or one publication”.

“Our mother lost her life because of this, and nothing has changed. By protecting her legacy, we protect everyone, and uphold the dignity with which she lived her life,” he said.

The BBC has written to apologise to Princes William and Harry, as well as the Prince of Wales and Diana’s brother Earl Spencer.

It’s hard to overstate the strength of feeling expressed by William.

Not just about Martin Bashir, but with the whole BBC, whom he thinks entirely failed to investigate the matter and covered up elements that were not to its liking.

Note, there was no talk of drawing a line under this, there was no talk of this being a long time ago.

Instead, he effectively accuses the BBC of driving his parents towards divorce and playing some part in the events that led towards his mother’s death.

Harry too, issued a statement, not as angry, not so pointed, instead referring, as he has before, to a “culture of exploitation and unethical practices”.

In the past of course it’s been Harry that’s been so angry with the media, William appeared to have made his peace with it, but the second in line to the throne has launched a visceral attack on the BBC, a sign of his deep hurt and deep dismay.

The independent inquiry – by retired judge Lord Dyson – found that interviewer Martin Bashir acted in a “deceitful” way and faked documents to obtain his interview.

The BBC’s own internal probe in 1996 into initial complaints about what happened was “woefully ineffective”, it added.

Prince William said the interview was a “major contribution to making my parents’ relationship worse, adding it has “since hurt countless others”.

“But what saddens me most, is that if the BBC had properly investigated the complaints and concerns first raised in 1995, my mother would have known that she had been deceived,” he said.

“She was failed not just by a rogue reporter, but by leaders at the BBC who looked the other way rather than asking the tough questions.”

Lord Dyson found that Bashir deceived Earl Spencer into introducing the journalist to his sister by showing him forged bank statements that falsely suggested individuals were being paid for keeping the princess under surveillance.

Prince William said that, in his view, the deceitful way the interview was obtained “substantially influenced what my mother said” in response to Bashir.

He said the Panorama programme had “no legitimacy” and should never be aired again.

“It effectively established a false narrative which, for over a quarter of a century, has been commercialised by the BBC and others,” he said.

Bashir said mocking up the documents “was a stupid thing to do” and he regretted it, but said they had had no bearing on Diana’s decision to be interviewed.

The independent inquiry was commissioned by the BBC last year, after Earl Spencer went public with allegations about how the interview was obtained.

Its findings were published on Thursday.

Lord Dyson found:

  • Bashir seriously breached BBC rules by mocking up the fake bank statements that helped him gain the trust of Earl Spencer
  • By gaining access to Diana through her brother, Bashir was able to persuade her to agree to give the interview
  • And as media interest in the interview increased, the BBC covered up what it had learnt about how Bashir secured the interview. Lord Dyson said this “fell short of the high standards of integrity and transparency which are its hallmark”

The earl told a new documentary by BBC Panorama: “Well, the irony is that I met Martin Bashir on the 31st of August 1995 – because exactly two years later she died, and I do draw a line between the two events.”

He said it was “quite clear” from when he introduced Bashir to Diana in September 1995 that “everyone was going to be made untrustworthy, and I think that Diana did lose trust in really key people”.

Patrick Jephson – Diana’s former private secretary – said the interview “destroyed remaining links with Buckingham Palace” and left her vulnerable to “people who didn’t have her best interests at heart”.

media captionEarl Spencer recalls introducing his sister to Martin Bashir in September 1995

Bashir’s interview with Princess Diana for a special edition of Panorama was a huge scoop for the BBC. In it, she famously said: “There were three of us in this marriage,” – referring to her husband’s affair with Camilla Parker Bowles.

It was the first time a serving royal had spoken so openly about life in the Royal Family – viewers saw her speak about her unhappy marriage to Prince Charles, their affairs, and her bulimia.

 

The Dyson Report shows a catalogue of moral, professional and editorial failures at the BBC in the 1990s, which occur on three main levels.

First, the interview of the century was obtained by deception. Martin Bashir has admitted to forging bank statements. This report says he lied repeatedly to several people, including at the BBC.

Second, the investigation led by future director general Tony Hall was “woefully ineffective”. Bashir was believed far too readily. Earl Spencer was not interviewed. Crucially, Dyson rejects the grounds given for this failure by Hall and his team.

Finally, Dyson uses a phrase which he knows to be explosive. There was a “covering up”. The origin of the cover up is not clear. But no matter: the BBC conspired, on vast scale, to deceive the public it is funded by and serves.

This report will not just injure the BBC, but scar it. And it should be granted that though it shows the historic failures of BBC journalists, it also shows the power and merit of journalism.

It is thanks to determined reporters, not least at the Daily Mail group and the Sunday Times, that we today have the first full account of the real story behind the most remarkable – and arguably consequential – interview in television history.

Bashir, 58, is one of the UK’s best known journalists, and also made headlines for his 2003 interview with pop star Michael Jackson.

Last week he left the BBC, citing ongoing health issues. He had been the corporation’s religion correspondent and editor since 2016.

The Dyson report also criticised the BBC for the way it handled claims about Bashir’s tactics.

In 1996, the BBC carried out its own investigation which cleared Bashir, Panorama and BBC News of wrongdoing.

Lord Dyson said that investigation – led by then-director of news, and future director general, Lord Hall – was “flawed”.

And as scrutiny from the press increased, the BBC gave “evasive” answers to journalists’ questions, he said.

In a statement, Lord Hall said he was wrong to give Bashir the “benefit of the doubt” at the time.

He added that throughout his 35-year career at the BBC he “always acted in ways I believe were fair, impartial and with the public interest front and centre”.

media captionThe BBC’s director general Tim Davie accepts the organisation’s “multiple serious failures”

The BBC’s current director general, Tim Davie, said: “Although the report states that Diana, Princess of Wales, was keen on the idea of an interview with the BBC, it is clear that the process for securing the interview fell far short of what audiences have a right to expect.

“We are very sorry for this. Lord Dyson has identified clear failings.”

He added that the BBC should have “made greater effort to get to the bottom of what happened at the time and been more transparent about what it knew”.

It is understood that in a letter sent by Mr Davie to Prince Charles, the director-general apologised for Bashir’s “lurid and untrue claims” about the prince, members of his staff and other members of the royal family.

The letter said the BBC accepts that Bashir made the claims “intending to play on the princess’s fears, in order to arouse her interest in him, and without concern for the impact on those he maligned”.

Meanwhile, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden has said the government will think about whether future changes are needed at the corporation.

In a statement, he said Lord Dyson’s report revealed “damning failings at the heart of the BBC”.

“We will now reflect on Lord Dyson’s thorough report and consider whether further governance reforms at the BBC are needed in the mid-term Charter review.”

A Panorama investigation into the interview – delayed from last week – was shown on Thursday evening on BBC One, within hours of Lord Dyson’s findings being published.

 

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