BBC and Princess Diana

BBC’s reputation left damaged after Dyson inquiry into Princess Diana’s Panorama interview

Video still by the BBC during the Panorama interview.

4 minute read — By Derry Salter

An independent inquiry by Lord Dyson, a former senior judge, published on 27th May found journalist Martin Bashir guilty of deception concerning the 1995 Panorama interview of Diana, Princess of Wales.

Martin Bashir’s interview with Princess Diana, broadcasted by BBC Panorama on 20th November 1995, served to be a landmark scoop. During the interview, Diana confessed to having an affair as well as revealing her struggle with post-natal depression, bulimia and self-harm. Her infamous statement “there were three of us in this marriage” shed light on Prince Charles’ affair with Camilla Parker Bowles – his current wife – and how it made her feel worthless. Diana went on to suggest that Charles may not be fit for Kingship.

More than 20 million people watched the controversial interview; it led to the Queen recommending that Prince Charles and Princess Diana proceed with a divorce. Although the couple had separated in 1992, they did not officially divorce until 1996. A year later, Diana and her partner Dodi Fayed died in a car crash in Paris after speeding away from the media.

The report concluded that Bashir acted unreliably and dishonestly by commissioning fake documents sent to Princess Diana’s brother, Earl Spencer, in order to obtain the interview. The fake documents included bank statements designed to indicate that Princess Diana was under surveillance.

Although the BBC conducted an internal investigation into initial complaints in 1996, Dyson’s report renders it “woefully ineffective” as they failed to interview Earl Spencer and the BBC rehired Bashir in 2016. During the investigation, Bashir admitted to the creation of fake documents, but repeatedly denied showing them to Earl Spencer. Lord Dyson said that the BBC aimed to cover up what Bashir learnt, therefore falling “short of the high standards of integrity and transparency which are its hallmark.”

Prince William and Prince Harry spoke of the hurt caused by the interview. Prince William, second in line to the throne, states that both the BBC and Bashir failed Diana, with the interview being a “major contribution to making [his] parents’ relationship worse.” William accused Bashir of fuelling his late mother’s “fear, paranoia and isolation” through his deceptive methods of obtaining the interview. However, Bashir reject’s William’s claim arguing that him and Diana were close and he “loved her.”

Prince Harry cited the “ripple effect of a culture of exploitation and unethical practices” as one of the main reasons behind his mother’s death. In light of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s recent expose-interview, Harry expressed concerns that this toxic media culture is still prominent today. The late Princess’ former private secretary Patrick Jephson said the interview “destroyed remaining links with Buckingham Palace”.

Responding to the report, the BBC argued that better procedures are now in place after the “clear failings” of the interview. The BBC director-general, Tim Davie, offered a “full and unconditional apology” to the Princess. Bashir left the BBC without a pay-off, citing ongoing health issues a few days before the report was released. In response to the interview, Bashir said he “never wanted to harm” Diana.

The future of the BBC remains unknown with a mid-term review of its royal charter – an agreement over the running and funding of the BBC – looming on the horizon. With this significant revelation into the BBC’s previous unethical practices, its reputation has been compromised. Home Secretary Priti Patel stated that the BBC was not “publicly giving confidence” at this moment in time, making it clear that its future very much hangs in the balance.