Analysis: usually guarded Duke of Cambridge reveals pent-up fury as he comments on BBC’s handling of Panorama interview
Fri 21 May 2021 16.38 BST
He delivered it to camera in a calm and measured tone. But the Duke of Cambridge’s actual words had devastating impact and betrayed a fury pent up for a quarter of a century.
He spoke of “deceit” of “lurid and false” claims, of cover-ups, woeful incompetence and his “indescribable sadness” over Lord Dyson’s findings on the BBC’s handling of the now infamous Panorama interview.
He stopped short of taking the view of his uncle, Lord Spencer, that a direct line could be drawn between the interview, an unprotected Diana, Princess of Wales, being cut adrift thereafter, and her death two years later.
Most telling was what he did mention: his belief that it had contributed to a worsening of his parents’ relationship and, strikingly, that it had “fuelled her paranoia”.
For William, ultra-private, guarded, famously taciturn in public on matters of emotion – unlike his younger brother, Harry – this was about as deeply personal as the public has ever seen.
“I was surprised at how personal it was. It is very unlike statements that we normally see from the future Prince of Wales and future king, one of the most revealing we have ever had from him,” said Joe Little, managing editor of Majesty Magazine.
William’s ire was directed at the BBC leaders whose actions stymied any meaningful investigation into claims raised at the time over methods employed by Panorama reporter Martin Bashir to land his “interview of the decade – if not our generation”.
His belief, according to his statement, is that what Bashir told Diana influenced what she said, and “created a false narrative”, a “settled narrative” that has endured for 25 years.
Yet, say royal observers, he witnessed his parents’ acrimonious split. Clearly, from his statement, he also witnessed his mother’s feelings of isolation and paranoia. He was undoubtedly aware of Andrew Morton’s book, Diana, Her True Story, with which she cooperated. He surely must have suspicions the narrative was not wholly false.
“It is interesting that he mentioned paranoia. And also that he highlighted the fractious relationship of his parents , saying the Panorama interview made it much worse. So, it was quite a statement. And the fact that he was filmed making it was a way of underlining his displeasure , and that he wanted it to be known far and wide,” said Little.
But, a false narrative? “I think that is going too far, really. Perhaps over-egging it.”
The 1995 Panorama interview was traumatic for William at the time. It has been said he was against his mother doing it, that he had met Bashir and was suspicious of him, and that he had advised her to be very careful, but she had reassured him.
He watched it at school at Eton, and was devastated. “He came home from school. He was absolutely furious. He’d watched it in his housemaster’s study. When, later, his housemaster went to find him, his eyes were red with tears. It’s clearly a deeply traumatic incident,” said royal historian Robert Lacey.
Diana was “simply responding” to Charles’s interview with Jonathan Dimbleby. She had been in talks with others; it was just the BBC got to the head of the queue, he said.
“It wasn’t a question of when; it was simply a question of who. All the things she said would have been said anyway,” Lacey believes.
He was “astonished” at William’s statement. “I think emotion has overcome him. He has clearly not allowed calmer, cooler royal advisers any hand in the drafting of this,” said Lacey. It was “very emotive and impolitic”.
“The queen would never issue a personal statement like this. A future constitutional head of state should have shown more detachment and balance and measure.”
Given the trauma both William and Harry endured then, and through the sequence of events leading ultimately to their mother’s death, the confirmation she had been manipulated in some way undoubtedly gives focus to the hurt they have carried.
“I think perhaps he has been wanting to find someone to blame, I suspect, for all these years. And here we have a scapegoat,” royal biographer Penny Junor said of William. “Something concrete to blame in the process of his mother’s death.
“He lost his mother at a very young age. He’s been angry, grief-stricken. All the emotions that Harry’s now talking about, I’m sure that William will have suffered them all. And, suddenly, something has been held up as contributing to the breakup, the finality of the breakup of the marriage.
Fears of ‘feeding frenzy’ against BBC after Diana interview backlash
Ex-chair of BBC Trust warns criticism could lead to ‘destroying something it would be impossible to recreate’
Peter Walker, Mark Sweney and Ben Quinn
Fri 21 May 2021 18.50 BST
A former chair of the BBC Trust has warned against the “feeding frenzy” engulfing the corporation as ministers said they would look at how it is governed in the wake of damning findings about its 1995 interview with Diana, Princess of Wales.
As the broadcaster faced further searching questions over its handling of the crisis, Sir Michael Lyons, who chaired its governing body at the time, 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.
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.
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”.
The scheduled mid-term review of the BBC’s current 10-year charter, which sets out the corporation’s governance, is due to begin early next year. Sources said one option being looked at was the idea of accelerating this review, although no formal work is expected to begin before 2022.
Lyons, the trust’s chair from 2010 to 2017, said critics had to accept that the corporation “is not the same organisation it was 25 years ago”.
“There may be some lessons to learn but the BBC remains important to the quality of life in the UK and it is critical that any changes are measured and we don’t destroy something it would be impossible to recreate,” he said.
Tim Davie, who took over as BBC director general last year, was correct to accept the findings of the report by the former supreme court judge John Dyson, Lyons said, adding: “But this can’t be time for a feeding frenzy on the BBC.”
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.
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.”
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.
However, government sources played down the idea of immediate and drastic action, saying one key test would be whether the BBC’s much-changed structure was seen as less at risk of such failings, both in terms of the initial deception and time it took to emerge.
“This happened in the 1990s, and the BBC’s governance has changed a lot since then,” one source said. “We want to be satisfied that something like this would not take place now. But it’s not going to be a knee-jerk response into doing something radical. We have to look carefully at the report before we decide anything.”
Downing Street has already said that the mid-term charter review will only look at the BBC’s governance and regulation, and not its wider editorial independence.
Defenders of the BBC have warned the crisis could be exploited by those opposed to the corporation. Steven Barnett, a professor of communications at Westminster University and a co-founder of a new pro-public broadcasting lobby launched this week, said the Bashir crisis could not happen now.
“There are a number of self-interested parties, organisations and publishers who will take every opportunity to kick the BBC,” said Barnett, a member of the steering group of the British Broadcasting Challenge group of academics, writers and producers.
“It wasn’t a false narrative. At the time Diana was cock-a-hoop at having given this interview,” she added. ‘A cover-up’: what the Dyson report said about the BBC and Martin Bashir
Bashir’s lies to obtain Diana interview were discovered by the BBC but effectively covered up, finds report
Martin Bashir used fake bank statements to ‘groom’ Earl Spencer so that he could reach his, Princess Diana. Photograph: NBC NewsWire/NBC Newswire/NBCUniversal/Getty Images
Matthew Weaver and Ben Quinn
Thu 20 May 2021 21.04 BST
How did Martin Bashir trick Princess Diana into giving an interview?
Lord Dyson is excoriating in his assessment of Bashir. While the duplicity Bashir used to get his sensational interview with Diana is severely criticised as a “serious breach” of BBC guidelines, his credibility as a witness to internal BBC inquiries and to Dyson himself is also repeatedly questioned as his lies are exposed.
Dyson found that Bashir commissioned phoney bank transactions by a graphic designer who worked for the BBC. They purported to show payments from News International into the account of Alan Waller, a former security guard for Earl Spencer, to induce Spencer to arrange a meeting with his sister, Diana.
Bashir played on Spencer’s fears that Waller was selling secrets to the press. In August he offered to help Spencer track down Waller and showed him fake bank statements to gain his trust.
According to Spencer’s account, accepted by Dyson, the bank statements were used “to groom me, so that [Bashir] could then get to Diana for the interview he was always secretly after”.
Spencer told Dyson: “It hooked me in. I was duped … He very cleverly came to me on my number one bugbear: the bad behaviour of the press, which is of course ironic.”
Bashir also bluffed Spencer, claiming that Diana could vouch for his story that Waller was being paid for stories. He claimed he had developed a “close relationship” with Diana in the summer of 1995 and that she had told him that Waller was one of Spencer’s “pet hates”. Bashir even said that Diana had given him detailed accounts of the payments involved. Dyson dismissed Bashir’s claim of a previous friendship with Diana “incredible” and “unreliable”.
He said: “I do not accept that Mr Bashir and Princess Diana had met and formed any kind of relationship before Mr Bashir showed the fake Waller statements to Earl Spencer.”
At a meeting with Spencer at his Althorp estate on 14 September, Bashir also showed him fake statements that he had forged himself, suggesting Prince Charles’s private secretary, Commander Aylard, was being paid by “dark forces” hostile to Diana.
Bashir denied this, but Dyson did not believe his account. He accepted Spencer’s version of events and that the phoney Aylard payments were “the absolute clincher” in Bashir being introduced to Diana.
Bashir met Diana for the first time on 19 September, with Spencer, Dyson concludes. “Mr Bashir had established no kind of relationship with Princess Diana before” this meeting, Dyson found. He added: “Mr Bashir invented the idea that he and Princess Diana had already established a relationship before he showed the fake Waller statements in order to prove that … he did not intend to use Earl Spencer to secure an interview.”
Earl Spencer’s records also noted that Bashir claimed at the meeting that Diana was being watched by MI6 and that there was a plot to kill her, as well as making a number of lurid allegations about members of the royal family. Dyson concluded that Bashir was trying to exploit Diana’s vulnerability and her “paranoid fears”. “He must have been intending to play on her fears in order to arouse her interest in him,” Dyson found.
However, Dyson also concluded that regardless of Bashir’s deceptive tactics, Diana was by that time “keen on the idea of a television interview” with “any experienced and reputable reporter”.
The BBC has a handwritten note from Diana stating that the documents played “no part in her decision to take part in the interview”.
In a statement, Bashir said: “I re-iterate that the bank statements had no bearing whatsoever on the personal choice by Princess Diana to take part in the interview.”
Criticism of Tony Hall
Dyson’s report provides uncomfortable reading for Lord Hall, the former director general of the BBC who is now chair of the National Gallery.
Hall, who was head of news and current affairs at the time of the interview, initially praised Bashir for the interview. “You should be very proud of your scoop,” he told him in a note.
When doubts emerged about how the interview was secured, Hall presided over an internal review in 1996 that exonerated Bashir of wrongdoing. Its conclusion that Bashir’s dealings with Diana were “absolutely straight and fair” were “not justified”, Dyson found.
The review, by Hall and Ann Sloman, the head of weekly news shows, was “based in large part on the uncorroborated assertions of Mr Bashir. This error was compounded by their failure to approach Earl Spencer once they knew that Mr Bashir had shown the Waller statements to him.”
Dyson said that when Bashir admitting lying over the bank statements, this “should have set alarm bells ringing in their ears”.
Hall was also found to be guarded and misleading in answers to questions from the media about how the interview was secured. He also misled the BBC’s board by claiming that “the opportunity of interviewing the princess arose”. Dyson said this account “gave no hint” of the controversial way Bashir had secured the interview.
Responding to the report, Hall, who left the BBC last summer, said he accepted his inquiry “fell well short of what was required” and that he was “wrong to give Martin Bashir the benefit of the doubt”.
Was there a cover-up at the BBC?
While scathing of the deception deployed by Martin Bashir, the clear finding by Lord Dyson that the BBC then engaged in a cover-up is likely to be the source of even greater damage to the broadcaster’s reputation for integrity.
“I am satisfied that the BBC covered up in its press logs such facts as it had been able to establish about how Mr Bashir secured the interview,” he concludes in a particularly damning section entitled “Was there a cover-up?”.
Since other media outlets reported on it, there was “no good reason” why any of the BBC’s news programmes failed to mention the growing controversy surrounding how Bashir had secured the Diana interview, writes Dyson.
Looking back at the way in which the BBC handled queries from newspapers about the Bashir interview, the peer went on to say that he was not persuaded by the attempts made during his own investigation to justify what he described as “evasive responses” that were given to the press.
So who was responsible for the cover-up? On the basis of the evidence he had gathered, Dyson said he was unable to make a finding as to who was responsible for deciding that the story should not be covered, or for issuing an “official line” to editors.
“It must have been someone from senior management, but I can’t say who it was,” Dyson added.
Nevertheless, he went on to rule out Steve Hewlett, who edited Bashir’s Panorama interview and who died in 2017, because “his writ did not run beyond the programme”.
At the end of what he described as a “thorough and fair investigation”, Dyson comes to the conclusion that Martin Bashir mocked up fake bank statements and showed them to Diana’s brother, Earl Spencer, to gain access to the princess.
By doing so, the veteran journalist “acted inappropriately” and engaged in a “serious breach” of BBC rules as set down in the 1993 edition of its producers’ guidelines on straight dealing.
Other conclusions related to BBC investigations conducted by Tim Gardam, the former head of weekly programmes, and Tim Suter, the managing editor of current affairs, in December 1995; by Suter in March 1996; and by Hall and Sloman in April 1996.
While the Peer did not criticise Gardam and Suter for not seeking to obtain Earl Spencer’s version of events, he considered “that they too readily accepted that Mr Bashir was telling the truth about the fake documents”.
When Bashir was interviewed on 28 March 1996, he went on, the BBC had the additional knowledge that the journalist had shown the bank statements to Earl Spencer and that he had previously lied about this.
As for the investigation conducted by Lord Hall and Sloman, he concluded that it was “flawed and woefully ineffective”.
There were two flaws in particular. First, it was a serious error not to ask Earl Spencer for his version of events and find out what he had to say about the fake statements and what influence they had on him. Secondly, they did not scrutinise Bashir’s account with the necessary degree of scepticism.
Damningly, Dyson’s final conclusion dealt with the question of whether the BBC had covered up the investigations into how Bashir secured the interview and the propriety of the methods that he employed.
“By failing to mention on any news programme the fact that it had investigated what Mr Bashir had done and the outcome of the investigations, the BBC fell short of the high standards of integrity and transparency which are its hallmark,” he found.
This article was amended on 21 May 2021. An earlier version used the word coruscating when excoriating was intended.
Gleeful point-scoring over ‘BBC Diana shame’ stinks of hypocrisy
As an ex-Sun editor put it, ‘those in glass houses’ should note the wrongs exposed were typical of tabloids
Fri 21 May 2021 18.36 BST
It was “the BBC’s greatest day of shame in a century,” opined the Daily Mail, which devoted a full 20 pages to the devastating Dyson report into the broadcaster’s handling of Martin Bashir’s interview with Princess Diana.
The Sun, meanwhile, devoted eight pages to the “BBC’s Diana shame”, almost as many as the nine it produced the day after the award-winning interview aired in 1995.
It is perhaps inevitable that the BBC’s scandalous behaviour, covered up for so long and largely uncovered by newspapers, should have opened the floodgates to such gleeful score-settling, as well as howling delight that a rival news organisation, held to a different, impartial code of conduct, had got it so very wrong.
Most editorials about the “BBC’s Day of Shame” looked back not over the 99 years of BBC history, nor the 25 years of this shameful episode, but just 10, to the newspaper industry’s own dark days of the phone hacking scandal.
“What a hullabaloo the BBC raised when rogue elements of the red-top press were accused of phone hacking,” intoned the Mail, reverting to the “rogue reporter” line discredited in both scandals.
It went on to blame the BBC’s “blanket coverage” of that time for hastening the closure of the News of the World and triggering the Leveson inquiry “with chilling implications for media freedom”. Rather than blaming the illegal interception of private messages, many of them involving the young royals.
A full-page comment by Andrew Neil, described as a “giant of broadcasting and ex-BBC star” and not the founder of a soon-to-launched BBC rival, blamed Bashir’s lies and the subsequent cover-up for Diana’s death. The BBC “scaled the moral high ground during the great Fleet Street phone hacking scandal,” he wrote. “All the while drawing a veil over its own cesspit.” “Their stinking hypocrisy is not lost on us,” fulminated the Sun.
Not one of these many thousands of words mentioned the tabloid press’s own role in hounding Diana. To be fair, much has already been written about Earl Spencer’s eulogy at his sister’s funeral in which he said she had wanted to leave England “mainly because of the treatment that she received at the hands of the newspapers”.
There is plenty more evidence that a journalistic culture that turned a blind eye to unethical means while fixating on the scoop-filled ends was not restricted to the BBC.
Stuart Higgins, the former Sun editor, makes a brief but telling appearance in the excoriating Panorama documentary about the scandal, saying of the interview in 1995: “There’s so much material here that we’re devoting at least nine pages to it.”
Before becoming editor, Higgins was a royal reporter who won awards for his scoops. While he was editor, the paper published an exclusive about the Queen ordering Diana and Charles to divorce. He was also allegedly involved when the paper paid £100,000 for a fake video of the princess in a clinch with a stranger.
None of which detracts from the fact of BBC wrongdoing. As its own media editor, Amol Rajan, wrote, the Dyson report “shows a catalogue of moral, professional and editorial failures”.
In a tweet, however, David Yelland, who replaced Higgins as editor of the Sun, wrote of the coverage: “All those in glass houses, editors past and present, should pause before attacking the BBC and remember Bashir, then, was typical of our culture. The Beeb is still a national asset, a prized thing, a force for good.” The same could be said of all ethical journalism.
The BBC faces enormous challenges from a government run by a man sacked from the Times for making up quotes and yet whose ministers continually threaten to change its governance and otherwise cut it down to size.
Newspapers also face an existential crisis brought about not just by the economic turmoil of the digital transition, but by the onslaught of fake news and the spread of misinformation.
The term “pious hypocrisy” was used by many papers – the Times as well as the Mail and the Sun – to describe the BBC. Yet newspapers’ own hypocrisy – at the very least a return to the “rogue” reporter argument – will surely not help now.