[Hollywoodreporter] Tim Suter, formerly a top executive at the BBC, has stepped down from the board of British broadcast regulator Ofcom following a damning report into the BBC’s conduct in securing a famous television interview with Diana, Princess of Wales in 1995.
Ofcom’s chief executive Dame Melanie Dawes said Friday Suter was stepping down “by mutual agreement…with immediate effect.”
The report, whose findings were released Thursday, concluded BBC journalist Martin Bashir used “deceitful methods” to win the trust of Diana’s family and help convince her to do the interview. Bashir got a graphic designer at the BBC to forge bank statement to make it seem as if the media were paying associates of Diana’s family for information.
On Saturday, former BBC director general Tony Hall resigned as chairman of the National Gallery. He served as the BBC’s director of news when Bashir got the interview. “I am very sorry for the events of 25 years ago and I believe leadership means taking responsibility,” Hall said in a statement. He added that remaining in his role would be “a distraction.”
Former supreme court judge Lord Dyson, who carried out the report, judged that the BBC “fell short of the high standards of integrity and transparency which are its hallmark.”
The report criticized Suter, in his previous job as managing editor of weekly programs at BBC News and current affairs, for his role in the BBC’s internal investigation into the incident. That investigation, led by former BBC director-general Tony Hall, cleared Bashir of wrongdoing. Lord Dyson called it “woefully ineffective.”
In the wake of Dyson’s report, pressure is growing on the BBC to reform its regulations and editorial controls. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told ITV News Friday that the BBC should take “every possible step to make sure nothing like this ever happens again.”
Earlier, Prince William, Diana’s son and the second-in-line for the British monarchy said the BBC’s “failures and false claims” contributed to his mother’s “fear, paranoia and isolation” before her death.
For most of its 100-year-history, the British Broadcasting Corporation has been regulated in-house by a board of governors. In 2007, in response to another BBC news scandal, the government established an independent BBC Trust to oversee the public broadcaster. In 2017, governance authority over the BBC was transferred to Ofcom, the British equivalent to America’s Federal Communications Commission.
Bashir left the BBC in 1999, four years after his Diana interview. He worked at ITV, MSNBC, and ABC before returning to the BBC in 2016 as religious affairs correspondent. He resigned earlier this month, ahead of the publication of the Lord Dyson report, citing health reasons due to COVID-19 complications.
In a statement Friday, Scotland Yard — the London Metropolitan Police — said it had determined in March of this year it was not appropriate to begin a criminal investigation into allegations of unlawful activity in connection with the Diana interview. But “following the publication of Lord Dyson’s report we will assess its contents to ensure there is no significant new evidence.”
How BBC journalist Martin Bashir’s dishonesty led to Princess Diana’s bombshell Panorama interview
Princess Diana’s 1995 Panorama interview caused turmoil inside the royal family and gave an unprecedented insight into the crumbling marriage between her and Prince Charles — all in front of 23 million Britons who tuned in.
But a damning report released on Thursday in the UK confirmed dirty tricks were employed by BBC journalist Martin Bashir to get access to the princess and arrange the infamous interview in which she spilled the couple’s secrets.
Here’s how a relatively unknown journalist used underhanded and deceitful tactics to attain an interview with Princess Diana.
What did Martin Bashir do?
In 1995, a sitdown interview with Princess Diana about her acrimonious separation from Prince Charles was one of the hottest prospects in journalism.
And a report released overnight by retired judge John Dyson suggests Martin Bashir was comfortable with deceiving those close to the princess to secure the interview.
The report paints a picture of Bashir’s attempts to access the princess by speaking to her brother, Charles Spencer.
During one meeting, Bashir provided Charles Spencer with bank statements purporting to show how an employee of his named Alan Waller had been paid money by the press.
Then, during a follow-up Bashir showed Charles Spencer more bank statements, which suggested the private secretaries of both Princess Diana and Prince Charles had accepted payments from what Spencer described as “dark forces, hostile to my sister”.
The catch? The statements were all faked.
Spencer later told the inquiry the first fake statement, which suggested his employee had been paid to talk to the media, “groomed” him for what would come next.
“He very cleverly came to me on my number one bugbear: the bad behaviour of the press, which of course is ironic, but that’s what he came to me with,” Charles Spencer said.
“When he had hooked me in on that by showing me a bank statement which seemed to prove what he was saying, then he played his ace.”
But the false suggestion in the second set of statements — that people close to Diana had received payments to work against her interests — alarmed Charles Spencer to the point that he “contacted his sister to tell her about them almost immediately”, according to the report.
Just days later, a meeting was arranged between Bashir, Spencer and the princess.
Bashir had his in, and the interview went to air two months later.
Did Bashir lie to Princess Diana?
The report from Lord Dyson concludes Bashir’s dishonesty secured him an introduction to Princess Diana, but that does not extend to finding she was tricked into giving an interview.
In fact, the report finds she likely would have been amenable to giving an interview to the BBC or another well-respected journalist, without Bashir’s interventions.
The report’s annexures also contain a handwritten note from Princess Diana, prepared for an earlier internal investigation by the BBC, that said Bashir had never shown her any documents to convince her to take part.
“Martin Bashir did not show me any documents, nor give me any information that I was not previously aware,” she wrote.
“I consented to the interviews on Panorama without any undue pressure and have no regrets.”
But in the wake of the report Diana’s son, future king Prince William, said that Bashir’s deceptions had played on Diana’s fears that she was being leaked against and manipulated by the royal family.
“The deceitful way the interview was obtained substantially influenced what my mother said,” William said.
“The interview was a major contribution to making my parents’ relationship worse and has since hurt countless others.
“It brings indescribable sadness to know that the BBC’s failures contributed significantly to her fear, paranoia and isolation that I remember from those final years with her.”
What did the BBC know?
Although the report from Lord Dyson was commissioned by the BBC, the British broadcaster did not escape its criticisms.
The BBC was not accused of playing a proactive role in Bashir’s deceptions, but of failing to provide appropriate oversight, and of covering up issues with the story.
The BBC was first alerted to the possibility of a problem when the graphic designer who had helped Bashir make the fake bank statements relating to Allan Waller saw the interview with Diana.
The designer was not aware of their purpose when Bashir requested they be mocked up, but became wary they may have been used to secure the interview.
An internal investigation was largely put to bed when Bashir produced the aforementioned letter from Princess Diana, which confirmed she consented to the interview and had no regrets.
But Lord Dyson found that when the issue was first made public in 1996, editors at the BBC had been directed not to run follow-up stories about Bashir’s conduct.
“I do not believe that, as a matter of editorial judgment, all the relevant BBC editors individually made decisions not to run the story because they considered that it was not sufficiently newsworthy to justify even a brief mention,” Lord Dyson wrote.
“There was no good reason not to mention the issue at all on any news programme. By failing to do so, the BBC fell short of the high standards of integrity and transparency which are its hallmark.”
In light of the findings, Bashir apologised for faking the documents but said it had no bearing on Diana’s decision to speak to him on camera.
He left his current job at the BBC last week, citing health concerns.
Why was the Panorama interview such a big deal?
When the program went to air in November 1995, Diana and Charles had separated and the world’s attention was focused on the couple’s crumbling marriage.
During the interview with Bashir, Diana famously uttered the quip “there were three of us in this marriage”, referring to Charles’s ongoing affairs with Camilla Parker Bowles, to whom he is now married.
Diana also spoke on the record about her struggles with mental health and the eating disorder bulimia.
It was watched by more than 23 million people in the UK.
When Diana’s younger son Prince Harry and his wife Meghan sat down for a bombshell interview with Oprah earlier this year, it was likened to the Panorama interview.
Prince Harry also issued a statement in the wake of the report’s findings, likening the treatment of his mother 25 years ago to the press coverage of his own family today.
“What deeply concerns me is that practices like these — and even worse — are still widespread today,” he said.
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