As it emerges that BBC executives ‘joked’ about the Martin Bashir/Princess Diana scandal, and a report about it was heavily redacted, while Mr Bashir insisted “professional jealousy” as well as racism were to blame for questions about how he had secured the sensational interview, here our Editor Phil Parry looks at the extraordinary fall out from the affair, as he mourns that a great institution where he spent 23 years has now been brought low.
Earlier he described how he was assisted in breaking into the South Wales Echo office car when he was a cub reporter, recalled his early career as a journalist, the importance of experience in the job, and made clear that the ‘calls’ to emergency services as well as court cases are central to any media operation.
He has also explored how poorly paid most journalism is when trainee reporters had to live in squalid flats, the vital role of expenses, and about one of his most important stories on the now-scrapped 53 year-old BBC Wales TV Current Affairs series, Week In Week Out (WIWO), which won an award even after it was axed, long after his career really took off.
Phil has explained too how crucial it is actually to speak to people, the virtue of speed as well as accuracy, why knowledge of ‘history’ is vital, how certain material was removed from TV Current Affairs programmes when secret cameras had to be used, and some of those he has interviewed.
He has disclosed as well why investigative journalism is needed now more than ever although others have different opinions, how the coronavirus (Covid-19) lockdown played havoc with media schedules, and the importance of the hugely lower average age of some political leaders compared with when he started reporting.
It just seems to go on and on.
Martin Bashir apparently told colleagues “professional jealousy” and racism were to blame for allegations that he secured an interview with Princess Diana through deceit, newly released emails have revealed.
Mr Bashir wrote this in 2020 – months before a BBC Panorama interview exposed the scandal surrounding his infamous 1995 interview, in which the Princess said of her relationship with the then Prince Charles: “There were three of us in this marriage”.
“At the time, it was also apparent that there was some irritation that a second-generation immigrant of non-white, working class roots should have the temerity to enter a Royal Palace and conduct an interview”, Mr Bashir proclaimed.
Mr Bashir was born in London to Pakistani parents.
His comments are revealed in thousands of emails and documents released by the BBC relating to the circumstances of how he secured the interview with Diana, and any subsequent alleged cover-up by the corporation over his actions, but there have been an incredible number of redactions in these papers which have led to further questions.
In one of the emails, dated October 19 2019, a lawyer tells a former editor of BBC Panorama (on which I have worked) that the corporation was “not releasing all of the internal investigations documents at this present time“.
Following the eventual release of those emails, Mr Webb said: “The BBC clearly admit that documents were being withheld. In my book, that’s a cover-up.
“And it’s obvious even on first glance that this material is highly relevant, though the BBC assured the judge that it was entirely irrelevant”.
Mr Webb said the emails are so heavily redacted that there would have to be another court challenge.
As the celebrated biographer and journalist, Tom Bower, also put it pithily in the letters page of The Times: “Sir, How can the three BBC governors asked to investigate the circumstances surrounding the Bashir case be expected to give an objective critique? Two of them have been governors for some years and clearly never asked why Bashir was rehired despite widespread knowledge of his past”.
Mr Bashir rejoined the BBC in 2016, before a year afterwards being made religion editor following a ‘review’ led by (then BBC Director-General) Lord Tony Hall of Birkenhead, who knew some of the details.
“In the wake of the Dyson report (which examined the incredible events) there are serious questions still left to answer. Namely, why was Martin Bashir rehired, with the BBC knowing what they knew? I am writing to the BBC’s Director-General, Tim Davie, for urgent answers”, declared Julian Knight, MP, then chairman of the Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee.
A grovelling apology followed from the BBC after the disgraceful behaviour of the past was officially slammed, but it has plainly not been enough.
Yet Tim Davie, had done his best, saying: “The BBC should have made greater effort to get to the bottom of what happened at the time and been more transparent about what it knew. While the BBC cannot turn back the clock after a quarter of a century, we can make a full and unconditional apology”.
Later he reiterated a “full, unconditional apology” to Matt Wiessler, the graphic designer who had complained he was sidelined by the broadcaster after trying to expose Mr Bashir’s methods.
The then BBC chairman Richard Sharp told the Radio Four programme World at One (W at O): “I take comfort from the fact that Martin Bashir is no longer here. I don’t take comfort yet from understanding why he was rehired. We will find that out”.
Asked what he knew of the rehiring, including whether due diligence was carried out, he said: “I actually don’t know, that is being examined by the executive and they will report to the board on that. I want to see the facts”.
All of this will only embolden those who say the BBC licence fee (a tax) should be frozen or even cut, for the next five years.
As former Conservative Party leader William Hague said of the BBC in The Times on the same day as Mr Bower’s contribution: “…its ability to function as an institution known for integrity and truth is now in question. The health of our democracy requires that to be put right”.
The police have looked into this shameful episode as well.
Scotland Yard said at the time it would assess the contents of investigations to ensure there was no “significant new evidence” to support a criminal investigation
Meanwhile it is evident now that this whole scandal, which has destroyed the audience’s trust in the corporation, was treated lightly.
In one section of the dossier that actually WASN’T redacted, it is shown how a senior executive had said to another, that it would: “Get you a 10-year stretch in The Tower _ do they still have the Rack in there. I expect so”.
But it is no laughing matter when a famous institution has lost all credibility with its audience and brought down so low…
The memories of Phil’s astonishing decades-long award-winning career in journalism (including details of his years at the BBC) as he was gripped by the rare disabling condition Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia (HSP), have been released in a major book ‘A GOOD STORY’. Order it now!
Regrettably publication of another book, however, was refused, because it was to have included names.
Tomorrow – more problems for the BBC, as the latest audience figures reveal the scale of the challenge facing Wales’ solitary national English-language radio station, and its controversial Editor.