Executives at the BBC have come under fire in the wake of damning findings about its 1995 interview with Diana, Princess of Wales. An independent inquiry concluded the corporation failed to adequately probe its reporter Martin Bashir’s use of forged documents to obtain the interview, in which Diana laid bare her crumbling marriage to Prince Charles.
Speaking on Friday, Boris Johnson said he was “obviously very concerned” about the Dyson report. He said: “I can only imagine the feelings of the royal family and I hope very much that the BBC will be taking every possible step to make sure nothing like this ever happens again.”
The BBC also faces further searching questions over its handling of the crisis, Sir Michael Lyons, who chaired its then governing body from 2007 until 2011, said there was a danger of destroying something that “would be impossible to recreate”.
His remarks on Friday night came as the media regulator Ofcom announced it would examine whether any action was needed following a report into the Panorama episode, saying the conclusions “raise important questions about the BBC’s transparency and accountability”.
The Metropolitan police also said they would assess the contents of Lord Dyson’s report “to ensure there is no significant new evidence”, after previously deciding not to begin a criminal investigation. On Friday night, the Mail reported that Diana’s brother, Earl Spencer, had written to the Met commissioner, Cressida Dick, demanding the force investigate the BBC and saying his sister was the victim of blackmail and fraud.
The intensity of criticism about the revelations that Martin Bashir used “deceitful behaviour” to secure the interview, and that this was then covered up, are seen as a possible catalyst for ministers to trim the independence and scope of the national broadcaster.
Governance reforms at the BBC needed
The culture secretary, Oliver Dowden, said he would “consider whether further governance reforms at the BBC are needed”, while the justice secretary, Robert Buckland, said the government would have to consider the report’s findings “very carefully and comprehensively indeed”.
Michael Grade, the former BBC chairman who is now a member of a government panel looking into the future of public service broadcasting, warned the Dyson report was “bound to be grist to the mill of the BBC’s enemies”, while saying it was clear the corporation needed some reform.
Grade has called for the creation of a BBC editorial board of independent journalists, although it is understood there are no immediate government plans for this.
In his report released on Thursday, Dyson found Bashir had commissioned fake bank statements which falsely suggested people were being paid to monitor Diana so as to gain access to her. He called this a “serious breach” of the BBC’s editorial guidelines.
Responding to the report, princes William and Harry condemned what they called a deception which had heightened the paranoia of their mother and played a role in her death two years after the interview.
Circumstances behind the Diana interview
BBC executives are under particular pressure to explain how Bashir, who left the BBC in 1999, was then rehired in 2016 as religion editor, quitting the corporation days before the Dyson report was published, and why it took so long to uncover the wrongdoing.
Tim Suter, a former BBC executive who was part of a 1996 internal investigation into the interview, stepped down from his board role with Ofcom on Friday.
Separately, Julian Knight, the Conservative MP who chairs the Commons culture and media committee, said he had written to Davie to ask why Bashir had been hired again.
James Harding, who was head of BBC News at the time Bashir returned, said that while he did not know at the time the circumstances behind the Diana interview, the “responsibility for that sits with me”.
As well as the charter review, a key factor in repercussions from the Dyson report will be any action potentially taken by Ofcom, which took over from the BBC Trust in 2017 to become the corporation’s first external regulator.
Ofcom was “considering the report, and will be discussing with the BBC what further actions may be needed to ensure that this situation can never be repeated”, said the regulator’s chief executive, Melanie Dawes.
With a separate report by MPs warning this week that the BBC had been “complacent” over the numbers of people ignoring its output to watch rivals such as Netflix, and some ministers publicly mulling the future viability of a mandatory licence fee, the broadcaster is facing one of the most turbulent times in its near-century of existence.
Source: The Guardian