Martin Bashir Diana interview: MPs now want answers – and announce hearing into BBC handling of interview | Ents & Arts News

Martin Bashir Diana interview: MPs now want answers – and announce hearing into BBC handling of interview | Ents & Arts News

MPs have announced they are to hold a hearing into the handling of the BBC interview with Diana, Princess of Wales – as the corporation says it will review its editorial policies.

The inquiry comes as the government brings forward a mid-term review it was planning to carry out focusing on changes to governance and regulatory arrangements brought in at the start of its latest charter period, which sets out the continual constitutional basis for the BBC and most recently began in January 2017.

The BBC Board has also launched a review having concluded “audiences had a right to expect better” following the corporation’s investigation into the famous 1995 Martin Bashir interview.

The inquiry by Lord Dyson had concluded Bashir used “deceitful behaviour” to land the world exclusive and that an internal BBC probe a year later had covered it up.

Martin Bashir with the BAFTA award he won for best talk show after the Panorama interview with Diana
Martin Bashir won a BAFTA award for best talk show after the Panorama interview

Following a private meeting of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee on Monday, chair Julian Knight announced it would hold an official session to examine questions raised by Lord Dyson’s report.

The session, which is expected to be held in June, will consider wider issues such as whether there has been evidence of change in how the BBC has operated since the Panorama interview.

It will also look in depth at the corporation’s own internal investigation and invite senior BBC management to give evidence.

Following the publication of the report, Bashir apologised to Prince Harry and Prince William – but stopped short of admitting that he duped Diana into the Panorama interview.

Mr Knight said: “We believe the BBC has further questions to answer following last week’s report by Lord Dyson and further speculation in the media over the weekend, including views expressed by Martin Bashir himself.

“We want to speak to those who were involved at the time and in the years that followed the screening of this programme which continues to create headlines more than 25 years on.”

Diana speaks to Panorama presenter Martin Bashir in 1995
The BBC admitted failures and vowed ‘mistakes of the past’ would not be repeated

In a statement, the BBC Board has now responded to the independent investigation, admitting failures and saying it hopes to ensure the “mistakes of the past” are not repeated following a “profoundly sobering period for us all”.

The BBC Board review will be undertaken by a group of non-executive board directors, led by Sir Nick Serota, senior independent director of the BBC, and supported by Ian Hargreaves and Sir Robbie Gibb, non-executive members of the corporation’s editorial guidelines and standards committee.

It will look at “oversight of editorial practices”, the culture of the BBC, and assess the “robustness and independence of whistleblowing processes”, and report to the BBC Board in September. The review will also identify “lessons to be learned” from the Dyson inquiry.

The BBC Board statement said: “We accepted Lord Dyson’s findings in full and reiterate the apology we have offered to all those affected by the failings identified.

“We recognise the impact that the events it describes has had on so many people, not least those whose lives were personally affected by what happened. We also acknowledge that audiences had a right to expect better from the BBC.

“As a board we believe that the BBC is a different organisation today, with different and stronger governance, as well as improved processes. Nevertheless, Lord Dyson’s report speaks to historic failings of oversight and these should be reflected upon. We must not just assume that mistakes of the past cannot be repeated today – we must make sure that this is the case.”

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Royal biographer: Bashir ‘scared Diana half to death’

Culture minister John Whittingdale, announcing the government’s mid-term review is being brought forward from 2022 to now, said: “We also made provision… for a mid-term review by the government to ensure that the new governance arrangements are working effectively. That review is due next year, but work on it will start now.

“In particular, we will wish to be satisfied that the failures which have been identified, could not have occurred if the new governance arrangements had been in place.

“In an era of fake news and disinformation, the need for public service, broadcasting and trusted journalism has never been stronger.

“The BBC has been and should be a beacon, setting standards in which others can aspire. But it has fallen short so badly has damaged its reputation both here and across the world. The BBC now needs urgently to demonstrate that these failings have been addressed and that this can never happen again.”

Fake bank statements relating to News International and Penfold Consultants (Jersey), as published in an Annex to Lord Dyson's independent investigation into the circumstances around the programme. Issue date: Thursday May 20, 2021.
Bashir commissioned fake bank statements in his bid to secure the interview

Labour expressed concern whether the mid-term review could provide the government with an opportunity to link the funding of the BBC to its governance.

Shadow culture secretary Jo Stevens said: “The BBC is bigger than just Martin Bashir. It is one of the most trusted sources of news in the world, and at a time when trusted sources are more important than ever before.

“The secretary of state said he would not be making a knee jerk reaction to this incident and I welcome that commitment. The mid-term review is an important chance to take stock, but we need to be clear exactly what problems any government governance reforms will solve and keep the issue of funding of the BBC separate to its editorial control.”

It emerged on Saturday that Diana’s brother Earl Spencer has written to the Metropolitan Police chief to ask the force to look again at the circumstances surrounding the interview.

The force has said it will study the findings to assess whether the report contains any “significant new evidence”.

Lord Dyson said Bashir was in “serious breach” of the BBC’s producer guidelines when he faked bank statements and showed them to Earl Spencer to gain access to the princess.

Former BBC director-general Lord Hall, who was heavily criticised in the report for his botched inquiry into how the interview was obtained, has since resigned as chairman of the National Gallery, saying continuing in the role “would be a distraction to an institution I care deeply about”.

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