Thursday night’s episode of the long-running investigative series, titled “Princess Diana, Martin Bashir and the BBC,” detailed the inside story of how Bashir obtained the candid sit-down, as well as the BBC’s response upon discovering that Bashir had shown falsified documents to Diana’s brother, Earl Spencer.
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In the opening statement, Bashir was described as having “spun a web of elaborate lies” in order to secure an interview with the princess.
“We’ve pieced together the calculated deceit that Martin Bashir deployed to get his scoop,” said the program’s lead reporter John Ware.
During the program, Earl Spencer alleged again that the said documents, which supposedly revealed that two senior courtiers were being paid to provide information on Diana, played a large part in his decision to introduce Bashir to his sister.
“I had warned Diana very clearly [about Bashir],” Earl Spencer said. “I still take full responsibility for introducing this man to Diana, but at the end of the day, I had done my due diligence.”
The results of Lord Dyson’s independent investigation into the 1995 interview were published earlier in the day, finding that the BBC “fell short of the high standards of integrity and transparency which are its hallmark” and that the internal investigation at the time, led by former BBC director general Tony Hall, was “woefully ineffective.”
Panorama also criticized Hall’s inquiry, pointing out that Hall himself questioned Bashir, but failed to corroborate his statements despite being aware that he had lied multiple times about who had seen the faked documents.
Ware read from an internal document prepared as part of Hall’s inquiry which stated that there were serious concerns among BBC management about Bashir’s conduct.
“Management will have to decide what action, if any, to take privately, or publicly about Bashir, what to do about his contract and how long he should stay on Panorama,” the document read.
Yet soon after, Hall reported his findings to the BBC board saying that he was “certain that Martin Bashir had not been trying to mislead or do anything improper.” Hall failed to share with the company’s directors that Bashir had shown the forgeries to Earl Spencer and then repeatedly lied to BBC management about it.
“We can see now that the false bank statements were, in a sense, the lever that opened the doors to access to Diana,” admitted then BBC Governor Richard Eyre, who was present when Hall delivered his findings. “If we had known at the time, there’s no question that this would have been ruthlessly investigated because they were very hot in the sense of propriety of the organization.”
According to Panorama, Hall accepts his investigation “fell well short of what was required” and admits that he was wrong to give Bashir the benefit of the doubt. However, Ware also said that Hall believes he acted in an “open and transparent” manner with the BBC board and that he “gave them all the key facts” at the time.
The findings of both the Panorama and Dyson investigations come less than a week after Bashir resigned from his position as the BBC’s Religion Editor on health grounds.
Bashir apologized for using the forged documents via a statement to the BBC on Thursday, but maintained that he was still “immensely proud” of the interview, and that the bank statements “had no bearing whatsoever on the personal choice by Princess Diana to take part in the interview.”
However, Earl Spencer directly contradicted Bashir’s assertion during the program, and it appears that Panorama agrees with Diana’s brother.
“In the 25 years since [Hall’s] inquiry into Martin Bashir, the BBC has stood by its claim there was no connection between the forged bank statements and the Diana interview,” Ware said. “That connection is now beyond doubt.”
Towards the end of the program, both Earl Spencer and Patrick Jephson, Princess Diana’s former private secretary, said they believe there is a direct link between that infamous interview and Diana’s death two years later.
“I do draw a line between the two events,” said Spencer. “It’s quite clear from the introduction that I sat in on…that everyone was going to be made untrustworthy. I think that Diana did lose trust in really key people. This is a young girl in her mid-30s who has lived this extraordinarily turbulent and difficult time in the public eye, she didn’t know who to trust. And in the end, when she died two years later, she was without any form of real protection.”
The BBC also apologized for its role in the interview, with director-general Tim Davie saying in a statement that the broadcaster “accepts Lord Dyson’s findings in full.”
“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,” said Davie.
“While today’s BBC has significantly better processes and procedures, those that existed at the time should have prevented the interview being secured in this way,” the statement continued. “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. While the BBC cannot turn back the clock after a quarter of a century, we can make a full and unconditional apology. The BBC offers that today.”
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