The BBC is engulfed in one of the biggest crises in its 100-year history after an independent inquiry concluded that former reporter Martin Bashir deceived his way to a Princess Diana interview and the broadcaster failed to properly investigate his wrongdoing.
Former Supreme Court judge Lord Dyson’s inquiry elicited a blistering statement from Prince William, who was excoriating about the BBC’s failings. The future King said the 1995 Panorama interview “contributed significantly” to the “fear, paranoia and isolation” of his mother in her tragic final years.
The BBC has apologized profusely, but such an intervention from the monarchy is usually catastrophic for the broadcaster. Prince William was clear that the Princess Diana interview should never see the light of day again and that “this settled narrative now needs to be addressed by the BBC.”
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The gravity of the situation prompted the government into announcing that it will consider reforming the BBC’s governance to ensure Bashir’s rogue reporting and subsequent cover-up is never repeated. Culture secretary Oliver Dowden said: “We will now reflect on Lord Dyson’s thorough report and consider whether further governance reforms at the BBC are needed in the mid-term Charter review.”
Lord Dyson’s report reveals damning failings at the heart of the BBC.
We will now reflect on Lord Dyson’s thorough report and consider whether further governance reforms at the BBC are needed in the mid-term Charter review. (1/2)
— Oliver Dowden (@OliverDowden) May 20, 2021
Quite what shape these reforms take remains to be seen, but former BBC chairman Lord Grade told BBC Radio 4’s Today show that a distinct editorial board, populated by senior independent journalists, should be established. “The BBC has got a lot of questions to answer on the way its journalism is structured,” he said.
The BBC’s existing governance structure was designed by the current UK government four years ago. It involved abolishing the BBC Trust, establishing a unitary board, and handing more regulatory powers to Ofcom. The government installed former Goldman Sachs banker Richard Sharp as the BBC’s chairman in February, while director general Tim Davie has only been in the job for a matter of months.
Davie said yesterday that the BBC has “significantly better processes and procedures” than those that existed 26 years ago. But the fact remains that Bashir was rehired by the corporation in 2016, while the man responsible for the botched investigation into his actions, Tony Hall, was director general until last year. Both Bashir and Hall have admitted failings following Dyson’s report.
The retired judge’s findings dominated the front pages of UK national newspapers on Friday morning. The Daily Mail described it as a “day of shame” for the BBC, while the Times Of London splashed on Prince William’s devastating statement. The scandal is also leading BBC news bulletins, as the corporation holds itself to account.
— Neil Henderson (@hendopolis) May 20, 2021
— Neil Henderson (@hendopolis) May 20, 2021
There are also reports that the BBC could face lawsuits following the inquiry. Mark Stephens, a media lawyer at law firm Howard Kennedy, told the i newspaper: “The BBC will now become the target of multi-million-pound lawsuits from those adversely impacted by Bashir’s deceit – like the designer, chauffer and others who essentially lost their jobs and had their good reputations besmirched.”
The designer is Matt Wiessler, who blew the whistle on the whole affair after he was commissioned by Bashir to forge bank statements that ultimately helped him secure access to Princess Diana, playing on her fear and paranoia that she was being spied on. Wiessler was blacklisted by the BBC after raising his concerns, meaning he lost valuable work.
He said: “By blowing the whistle on the deception, I suffered the fate of the fall guy. Lord Dyson correctly found the BBC investigation carried out after I raised the alarm was seriously flawed and a smokescreen to protect Bashir. The order from BBC management to make sure I never got any more work from the BBC was despicable. It had a devastating effect on my career and professional reputation. I hope those responsible for the cover up will now do the right thing and apologise to me.”