The Irish Times view on the BBC: a damning review
A critical report on the broadcaster’s workings is certain to set the agenda for the upcoming renewal of its charter by a hostile Tory government
An independent inquiry found Martin Bashir faked documents for his 1995 BBC interview with Diana, the Princess of Wales. Photograph: Vickie Flores/ EPA
When Tony Hall conducted an internal BBC review of the 1995 Martin Bashir interview with Diana, Princess of Wales, he concluded the reporter was an “honest and an honourable man”. But the then managing director of news, later director general, could not, as he admitted last Thursday, have been more wrong. A damning report by Lord Dyson, a former member of the supreme court, has found that Bashir lied to obtain the interview and that Hall and the BBC covered up the substantial breach of its ethical standards. The BBC, in the report’s words, “fell short of the high standards of integrity and transparency which are its hallmark”.
The journalistic standards associated at that time with the tabloid press, and which led to the Levison inquiry and massive litigation, had infiltrated even the BBC.
The report, which prompted unprecedented public attacks on the BBC by Diana’s two sons, William and Harry, is certain to set the agenda for the upcoming renewal of the corporation’s charter by a hostile Tory government, members of which would like nothing more than to dismantle the whole corporation. Ministers are already talking about “governance” review, the least of which will be an independent mechanism for examining revelations by whistleblowers.
Bashir had secured what has been described as the scoop of the century by forging bank statements which purported to show that members of the royal household were being paid to keep the princess under surveillance.
The claim, which he used to win Diana’s confidence, clearly fed the paranoia which she felt and her sense of isolation – both her brother Earl Spencer and Prince Harry have linked Bashir to her death. “The ripple effect of a culture of exploitation and unethical practices ultimately took her life,” Prince Harry claimed.
But it would be wrong for the actions of one reporter, 25 years ago, and the failings of his line management, to be used as an excuse for political encroaching into the BBC’s precious independence or a circumscribing of its remit or budget.