Forged documents, allegations of spying within the British royal family, and a nearly two-decades-old interview with the late Princess Diana have put the pre-eminent British news broadcaster, the BBC, under fire like never before. In light of the recent Dyson Report detailing its “deceitful” practices, the future for the media giant once regarded as the most respected news purveyor in the world looks very bleak indeed.
In 1995, Martin Bashir, a journalist and host of the BBC’s investigative news program, Panorama, falsified bank statements and told lies to convince Earl Charles Spencer, the brother of Diana, Princess of Wales, to introduce him to the popular royal. The aforementioned forged documents suggested that people within the royal household were surveilling the beloved princess and leaking to the press.
The interview was granted, and neither the BBC nor Bashir ever looked back. Bashir went on to win numerous awards for his interview, which the BBC described as “the scoop” of the century. A “self-investigation” took place in 1996, in which the BBC cleared itself of any wrong-doing, and the matter went away for the next 25 years. But not for those impacted by the lies and deceit that led to the interview.
Diana’s fragile mental health has been well-documented, and her children, Princes William and Harry, the Duke of Sussex, say that much of the blame lies with the state broadcaster. They claim Diana felt isolated and alone within the family because she did not know who could be trusted or who was selling her out to the press. The Princess of Wales became a tragic figure and was ultimately hounded to her death in July 1997 while being pursued by the very media that she feared.
The truth of the fake statements used as leverage to gain the interview eventually came out; a quarter of a century too late. And an investigation was launched with retired judge Lord Dyson leading. Lord Dyson’s findings include:
- “By showing Earl Spencer the fake (employees of the royal household bank) statements and informing him of their contents, Mr Bashir deceived and induced him to arrange a meeting with Princess Diana.”
- “One of their (the BCC investigator’s) conclusions was that Mr Bashir’s dealings with Princess Diana in securing the interview were absolutely straight and fair; but that his use of some material in the early preparation of the programme was in breach of the BBC Producers’ Guidelines on straight dealing and justified a reprimand.”
- “Without justification, the BBC fell short of the high standards of integrity and transparency which are its hallmark by (i) covering up in its press logs such facts as it had been able to establish about how Mr Bashir secured the interview to and; (ii) failing to mention Mr Bashir’s activities or the BBC investigations of them on any news programme.”
Prince William, who will one day be king after his father, Charles, spoke in a moving and rare prepared statement. He said:
“It brings indescribable sadness to know that the BBC’s failures contributed significantly to her fear, paranoia, and isolation that I remember from those final years with her.”
He further denounced the internal cover-up that took place within the BBC, saying 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. She was failed not just by a rogue reporter, but by leaders of the BBC who looked the other way rather than asking the tough questions.”
And finally, he highlighted a point about press accountability that has come to light on both sides of the Atlantic in recent years, lamenting:
“In an era of fake news, public service broadcasting and a free press have never been more important. These failings, identified by investigative journalists, not only let my mother down and my family down, they let the public down, too.”
These sentiments were echoed by the Duke of Sussex, who said that “the ripple effect of a culture of exploitation and unethical practices ultimately took her [Diana’s] life.”
The Unhappy Taxpayer
Faith in the BBC has never been so low. The very same investigative news show, Panorama, was exposed by political activist Tommy Robinson, who turned the tables on the program by secretly recording the host and producer admitting that they would twist the words of their interviewees to cast Robinson in a bad light.
A campaign was launched soon after by the United Kingdom Independence Party, formerly headed by Nigel Farage, to defund the BBC. Presently, any U.K. citizen who owns a TV must pay £157.50 (more than $200) a year to the corporation, whether they watch that channel or not. For those that refuse, court and even prison await.
When taxpayer money is used to fund lies, forgeries, and intimidation, all covered up by the governing body; one wonders how much longer the public will be willing to support the organization.
This is a situation entirely of the BBC’s creation. It refused to accept responsibility, decade after decade, and relied on its unique position as the state broadcaster to ride the waves of public displeasure without fear of censure. But perhaps those days are soon to be over.
Read more from Mark Angelides.