British broadcaster BBC, long viewed as a respected global news source, is now facing questions about its integrity.
U.K. culture secretary Oliver Dowden has called for change at the BBC following the Dyson report, which explored the circumstances surrounding the 1995 Princess Diana interview by Martin Bashir on the “Panorama” program.
“The BBC needs to improve its culture to ensure that this never happens again and that means a new emphasis on accuracy, impartiality and diversity of opinion,” Dowden wrote in the U.K. Times on Monday. “As others have observed, the BBC can occasionally succumb to a ‘we know best’ attitude. Groupthink in any organization results in a lack of challenge and poor decision making. That is why cultural change must be a focus after the Dyson report.”
The controversial interview came under renewed scrutiny after Diana’s brother, Earl Charles Spencer, complained that Bashir used false documents and other dishonest tactics to persuade Diana to grant the interview. As a result, the BBC commissioned an investigation by retired Judge John Dyson, who released a 127-page report on his findings Thursday.
At the heart of the scandal were documents made to look like bank statements. They falsely suggested that members of Diana’s inner circle were being paid to spy on her.
Spencer, 57, alleged that the journalist, 58, used the documents to gain his trust so Spencer would introduce the journalist to Diana. He also alleged that Bashir made up stories about the royal family to strengthen Diana’s belief that there was a conspiracy against her.
When graphic designer Matt Wiessler, who had been commissioned by Bashir to create mocked-up documents, saw the program, he immediately made the connection between his commission and the interview. He brought his concerns to BBC management, but he has long contended that they made him a scapegoat. He said there is a culture within the BBC that “the little people″ don’t need to be addressed. Wiessler’s business faltered after the BBC blacklisted him from assignments.
“The BBC must act quickly to restore trust and reassure the country that it will shine a light on any other areas falling short of the high standards we rightly expect from it,” wrote Dowden. “The new leadership deserves credit for having set up an independent investigation and accepting Lord Dyson’s findings in full and I expect them to act swiftly on all his recommendations.”
The BBC, founded in 1922, is Britain’s publicly funded but editorially independent national broadcaster. The rules governing its operations are set out in a royal charter that requires the corporation to be impartial, act in the public interest and be open, transparent and accountable. A mid-term review of the BBC’s governance is scheduled to begin next year.
Even before the Dyson report, the BBC was under pressure from some members of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party. They alleged the broadcaster has a liberal bias. Johnson said he was concerned about the findings and hoped that the broadcaster would make sure “nothing like this ever happens again.″
After the Diana tell-all, Bashir went on to forge a successful career on both sides of the Atlantic. He conducted another bombshell interview with Michael Jackson in 2003 for ITV and worked for both ABC and MSNBC.
He returned to the BBC in 2016 as religion editor. He resigned this month citing ill health and apologized for faking the documents. However, Bashir also said it had “no bearing whatsoever on the personal choice by Princess Diana to take part in the interview.”
Diana’s sons, Prince William and Prince Harry, released separate statements following the report. William, in particular, condemned the BBC for allowing the interview to take place. The 38-year-old is second in line to the throne.
In the infamous interview, the Princess of Wales said “there were three of us in this marriage,” referring to Prince Charles’ relationship with Camilla Parker-Bowles, who he married after Diana’s death. Diana, who divorced Charles in 1996, died in a Paris car crash in 1997 as she was being pursued by paparazzi. She was 36.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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