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Government: BBC must act fast to restore trust following Bashir Panorama scandal

Diana during her interview with Martin Bashir for the BBC (BBC)
Diana during her interview with Martin Bashir for the BBC (BBC)

The BBC must “act fast to restore trust” following Lord Dyson’s scathing report into the circumstances surrounding Martin Bashir’s Panorama interview with Diana, Princess of Wales, the Government has said.

The report by the former master of the rolls criticised the methods used by Bashir to obtain his exclusive interview with the princess, including using fake bank statements.

It said the journalist used “deceitful conduct” to obtain the 1995 bombshell interview, which was then covered up by a “woefully ineffective” internal investigation, in which the BBC failed to uphold “governance, accountability and scrutiny.”

BBC Stock
BBC Broadcasting House (Ian West/PA)

Responding to a Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee report on the future of public service broadcasting, the Government accused the BBC of displaying a “we know best attitude” that is detached from the values of “all parts of the nation that it serves” and suggested that governance could possibly be “strengthened.”

The response said: “It is the Government’s belief that the BBC must act fast 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.

“The BBC needs to improve its culture to ensure this never happens again and that means a new emphasis on accuracy, impartiality and diversity of opinion.

“The Government notes that the BBC can occasionally succumb to a ‘we know best’ attitude that is detached both from criticism and the values of all parts of the nation that it serves and believes cultural change must be a focus for the director-general and new chair on the back of the Dyson report.

“We will use the midterm Charter review to determine whether the governance and regulatory arrangements should be strengthened.”

Current director-general Tim Davie appeared before the committee earlier this week and said the Duke of Cambridge’s criticism in the wake of the Dyson report was “upsetting” and a “sad day” for the broadcaster.

DCMS Committee on the work of the BBC
BBC director-general Tim Davie (right) appearing before the committee with BBC chair Richard Sharp (House of Commons)

Mr Davie, who took up the role in September 2020, said he has “engaged with the royal household directly” since the publication of the inquiry’s findings in May, adding the BBC had offered an “unconditional apology” shortly afterwards.

He was also questioned over why Bashir had been rehired by the BBC in 2016 as religious affairs correspondent and said the interviewers were aware of “some of the controversies” around Bashir but that they “did not see them as substantive enough to block a re-hiring or stop them”.

He added: “With what I know now, having personally commissioned Lord Dyson to go at this, that hiring would never have been made, there’s no doubt about that.”

A review commissioned by the BBC and conducted by Ken MacQuarrie, said the theory that the journalist was re-employed to conceal events surrounding the interview was “entirely unfounded”.

A statement from the BBC said: “We welcome the Government’s recognition that public service broadcasters, including the BBC, provide high-quality content and trusted news.

“We also welcome the clear support to ensure that content is accessible and available to all in the future.

“As an organisation, the BBC has set out ambitious plans for change. We will continue to focus on delivering value for all licence fee payers by providing them with the high quality content and impartial, trusted news they expect.”

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