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BBC under pressure over Diana interview ‘cover-up’

(The BBC has come under criticism for its handling of the 1995 interview with princess Diana. Photo: AFP)

LONDON, (AFP):- The BBC was under pressure on Friday after unprecedented criticism from the royal family about its 1995 interview with princess Diana, damaging its reputation as it fights attacks on several fronts.

An independent inquiry concluded the corporation failed to adequately probe its reporter Martin Bashir’s use of forged documents to obtain the interview, in which Diana laid bare her crumbling marriage to Prince Charles.

The couple’s eldest son and second-in-line to the throne, Prince William, on Thursday was scathing in his criticism of the taxpayer-funded broadcaster, accusing it of failing Diana and the public, and worsening his parents’ relationship.

William’s younger brother Harry also waded in, adding: “The ripple effect of a culture of exploitation and unethical practices ultimately too her life.”

The BBC — founded by a royal charter — is financed by an annual licence fee of all television set owners. The fee is currently set at £157.20.

But the model is increasingly under scrutiny because of newer, subscription-based platforms and streaming services such as Netflix, and is facing calls to be scrapped.

It also regularly attracts complaints of political bias from all sides, but has jealously guarded its editorial independence from attempts at government influence.

The BBC’s media editor Amol Rajan on Thursday night said the report left the BBC “severely injured, probably scarred”, despite the passing of time since the interview was aired.

The investigation concluded the BBC knew about Bashir’s deception but did nothing, and even covered up his underhand methods to secure the interview.

“You’ve got Cabinet ministers, you’ve got pretty much every front page, you’ve got the slaughterhouse of social media, you’ve got the future king of Britain — and his brother — all lined up against the BBC,” Rajan said.

“For an organisation that exists on the whim of public affection and respect, that is a dreadful place for the BBC to be.”

Damning headlines

Justice Secretary Robert Buckland told Sky News the government would examine the report “soberly and calmly to see what, if anything, needs to be done to improve governance at the BBC”, even after it issued a full apology.

London’s Metropolitan Police has previously ruled out a criminal investigation into alleged unlawful activity surrounding the interview.

It said it would now assess the contents of the report “to ensure there is no significant new evidence”.

The BBC covered the report extensively on its television, radio and online site.

But newspaper reaction was damning of the organisation, as well as Bashir, who quit as religion editor last week citing ill health.

The Times said in an editorial: “The BBC’s subsequent efforts to cover up for their rogue reporter are as serious a breach of journalistic standards as Mr Bashir’s deceptions.”

The left-leaning Guardian agreed and said the report’s finding that the BBC “engaged in a cover-up is likely to be the source of even greater damage to the broadcaster’s reputation”.

William and Harry’s criticisms claimed the deception played into their mother’s fears and paranoia in the years leading up to her death in a car crash in 1997.

Former BBC chairman Michael Grade to BBC radio: “Here, the institution itself has covered up for 26 years the truth… it’s the cover-up that’s shocking.”

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