Princess Diana’s brother, Charles Spencer, has called on the BBC to open an inquiry into a landmark interview his sister did with the journalist Martin Bashir for Panorama.
Why was the Panorama interview so sensational?
Martin Bashir’s astonishing 1995 interview, arguably the most famous Panorama programme, was watched by 23 million people in the UK. The BBC hailed it the scoop of a generation.
Conducted during the very public War of the Wales’ – three years after the couple had separated – it blew the lid off their marriage and substantiated many press rumours.
In it Diana damned Charles by questioning his suitability to be king. Famously referring to Camilla Parker Bowles, she said: “Well, there were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded.” She admitted her own infidelity with army captain James Hewitt and revealed she would never be queen.
She spoke candidly of her postnatal depression, of self-harming, of her bulimia, and admitted she allowed friends to collaborate with the author Andrew Morton on his bombshell biography of her.
The fallout was deeply damaging. It completely compromised her relationship with the royal family, who knew nothing of the interview in advance, leaving her isolated from any palace support.
Why is it in the news now?
This month marks the 25th anniversary of the interview. At the time there were questions over how Martin Bashir, then a young, relatively unknown television reporter, had managed to land such a prize.
In the immediate aftermath, a BBC graphics designer said Bashir had asked him to produce fake bank statements that, it was then alleged, could have been used to coerce Diana into conducting the interview. The BBC launched an internal investigation, headed by Tony Hall, a future director general of the BBC.
What did 1996 BBC internal investigation conclude?
The 1996 inquiry cleared Bashir of any misconduct. It found that while Bashir had commissioned the documents, he had discarded them when he was unable to substantiate the information they contained.
A BBC spokesman at the time said: “It wasn’t a very good idea to have these documents made, and Mr Bashir accepts that. But we have confirmed that in no way were the documents used to gain the interview with Princess Diana.”
The BBC also said that in a handwritten note – subsequently lost – Diana confirmed she did not see the “mocked-up” documents.
Why is it controversial now?
Earl Spencer, Diana’s brother, is on the warpath and is demanding a new BBC investigation. He claims it was forged documents shown to him by Bashir that persuaded him to introduce the journalist to his sister.
Last week, the new BBC director general, Tim Davie, apologised to Spencer for the use of fake bank statements that purported to show one of Spencer’s employees was being paid for information, but said they had played no part in Diana’s decision to take part in the interview. Davie declined to open a further investigation.
But in an explosive intervention, Spencer’s reply to Davie, leaked to the Daily Mail, accuses the BBC of a “piecemeal apology”, of “yellow journalism” , of a “whitewash” and of not accepting “the full gravity of the situation”.
Spencer claims he was shown other forged documents that wrongly purported to show that two senior courtiers were being paid by the security services for information on his sister.
His reply states: “If it were not for me seeing these statements, I would not have introduced Bashir to my sister. In turn, he would have remained just one of thousands of journalists hoping that he/she had a tiny chance of getting her to speak to them, with no realistic prospect of doing so.” He reportedly has 10 pages of notes from his meetings with Bashir to back up his claims.
What does it mean for the BBC?
It raises questions over the first inquiry, conducted by Lord Hall, who was then the BBC’s director of news and current affairs. Spencer has noted Hall interviewed Bashir alone. Spencer questions: “Why did Tony Hall’s inquiry not seek the truth from me? Why did it bend over backwards to whitewash Bashir? Who knew the extent of his yellow journalism when securing what Hall calls the interview of the decade … or of the generation?’
In its most recent statement, the broadcaster said: “The BBC has apologised. We are happy to repeat that apology. And, while this was a quarter of a century ago, we absolutely will investigate robustly and fairly substantive new information.”
Bashir, now the BBC’s religious affairs correspondent, is seriously unwell and the BBC has been unable to discuss any of this with him.
Spencer wants a posthumous apology to his sister, and a contribution from the BBC from the profits it made through worldwide sales of the interview to charities linked to Diana.
— to www.theguardian.com