Princess Diana ‘Panorama’ Interview: Inquiry Finds BBC ‘Fell Short of High Standards,’ Tony Hall Investigation ‘Woefully Ineffective’


UPDATE: An independent investigation into a 1995 BBC Panorama interview with Princess Diana, conducted by journalist Martin Bashir, has found that the public broadcaster “fell short of the high standards of integrity and transparency which are its hallmark.”

The findings of the Lord Dyson inquiry, which was published on Thursday, are also particularly critical of the role played by Tony Hall, former director general of the BBC and then the corporation’s head of news and current affairs. The 127-page report notes that Hall’s investigation into the matter at the time was “woefully ineffective.”

The Dyson report is separate from the Panorama team’s own investigation into the episode.

As part of the ongoing fallout from the Dyson report, the BBC has said that it will return the BAFTA TV Award for best talk show that Bashir won in 1996. The corporation has also issued apologies to Diana’s husband Charles, Prince of Wales, her sons William and Harry, the dukes of Cambridge and Sussex, and her brother Earl Spencer.

Bashir and the program have been under investigation for several months after it was alleged in documentaries on U.K. broadcasters ITV and Channel 4 that the journalist may have used forged bank documents to secure access to the princess.

The forged statements, which were first reported on by British media in 1996, allegedly showed that two senior courtiers were being paid by security services for information on Diana. The statements were seen by Diana’s brother, Charles Spencer, who has said that they were the basis of him introducing Bashir to his sister while she was alive.

Spencer called for an inquiry into the matter last year, some 23 years after her death in Paris, and got in touch with BBC director-general Tim Davie. “The BBC is taking this very seriously and we want to get to the truth,” Davie said in November 2020.

The report found that Bashir deceived Spencer by showing him the documents, and also that he lied to BBC managers by denying he had shown the documents to anyone.

Bashir, in a statement to the BBC, apologized for the forged documents, but said he was nonetheless “immensely proud” of the interview. “The bank statements had no bearing whatsoever on the personal choice by Princess Diana to take part in the interview. Evidence handed to the inquiry in her own handwriting (and published alongside the report today) unequivocally confirms this, and other compelling evidence presented to Lord Dyson reinforces it.”

Bashir quit the BBC recently on health grounds.

Commenting on the published findings on Thursday, Dyson said: “The report demonstrates, I believe, that this has been the thorough and fair investigation I set out to do. All key individuals gave comprehensive testimony and I am grateful for their cooperation. It enabled my investigation to establish facts based on evidence and for me to draw the detailed conclusions that have been set out today.”

The BBC has apologized for its role in the Panorama interview. Calling Dyson’s report both “thorough and comprehensive,” director-general Tim Davie said in a statement that the corporation “accepts Lord Dyson’s findings in full.”

“Although the report states that Diana, Princess of Wales, was keen on the idea of an interview with the BBC, it is clear that the process for securing the interview fell far short of what audiences have a right to expect. We are very sorry for this. Lord Dyson has identified clear failings,” said Davie.

“While today’s BBC has significantly better processes and procedures, those that existed at the time should have prevented the interview being secured in this way. 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. The BBC offers that today.”

The Beeb has said it is “writing to a number of individuals involved or linked to these events” to apologize directly. “We recognize that it has taken far too long to get to the truth,” said the corporation. The org will also give back the various honors awarded to the 1995 interview at the time.

“We do not believe it is acceptable to retain these awards because of how the interview was obtained,” notes the BBC, which also published a comprehensive list of changes to its editorial policies over the 26 years since the interview was broadcast. These include a “significant” changes to editorial guidelines and a whistleblowing scheme. 

A “Panorama” program, which presents the results of its internal probe into the 1995 interview, will finally be broadcast on Thursday after being postponed twice.