Serious questions about how far a media organisation can go in pursuit of a scoop have arisen with the venerated British Broadcasting Corporation being forced to order an inquiry into the circumstances in which a sensational interview with Princess Diana was obtained in 1995.
The interview, where the Princess admitted to having had an extra-marital affair and where she said famously that there “were three of us in the marriage, so it was a bit crowded”, had shaken Britain’s royal family to its core. Within a year of the interview, the royal couple had divorced and a year later, the Princess had died in tragic circumstances in Paris.
While allegations about unethical means having been used to obtain the interview have been made in the past, most notably by the Princess’ brother, Charles Spenser, who is said to have facilitated the meeting between the journalist and her, it has now emerged that the BBC had conducted its own inquiry at the time. Mr Spenser says he had learnt just two weeks ago that the BBC knew of the means adopted by its journalist and had “covered it up.”
He says that BBC journalist Martin Bashir made several allegations at the time to convince the Princess to grant the interview, including that her telephones were bugged by Britain’s security agencies and that two senior aides were being paid to provide information, a claim he is alleged to have supported with forged bank statements.
With its professional ethics under a cloud, and with a former head of the organisation having said that BBC “faking documents in the interest of a scoop” raises very serious questions, the organisation has been forced to concede It is in the process of commissioning a “robust and independent investigation.” Bashir, who shot to international fame after the sensational interview, is at present BBC’s religious affairs correspondent and is said to be on sick leave after heart surgery and a coronavirus affliction.
While journalists bending the truth in order to coerce a reluctant news subject to open up is not unknown, this matter is serious for two reasons ~ the alleged forging of bank documents, which paint the journalist in poor light, and the alleged cover-up, which reflects poorly on the BBC. But would Diana have granted the interview even without being told she was being bugged and her aides being paid off?
Circumstantial evidence, including the statement of author Andrew Morton, whose 1992 book first revealed she was trapped in a failed marriage, that she had secretly collaborated with him suggest she might have spoken as she did even without Bashir’s questionable tactics. Just as the BBC’s reputation has made it the ethical template for media organisations, the extent to which it goes to cleanse itself of the stain of these revelations will be watched keenly by those who cherish it’s values.