With a furore threatening to erupt into an existential scandal that cuts to the heart of the Beeb, it is no wonder that an independent inquiry was quickly announced.
With a newly appointed Director General — Tim Davie — this glacial, antiquated corporation has been pressured into (being seen to) bring about justice and change, by appointing a heavyweight and revered (ex-Supreme Court and Master of the Rolls) judge to lead the inquiry. Lord Dyson was quick to establish the Terms of Reference and scope which will enable it to look into how their BBC reporter, Martin Bashir, got the interview of a lifetime with Lady Diana Spencer. But look a little deeper and all is not as it seems at Aunty — no, the real story is how the BBC tried to cover-up and hide the truth about its editorial standards.
Kensington Palace has responded quickly and ‘tentatively welcomed’ the news, hoping the inquiry will ‘establish the truth.’ Tim Davie seems also “determined to get to the truth” and with the worldly wise Lord Spencer now onboard, although he has questioned the parameters of the inquiry, tweeting: ‘Lord Dyson must be free to examine every aspect of this matter, from 1995 to today, as he sees fit,’ one can only hope that we will finally learn, albeit twenty-five years too late, how an interview watched by twenty-three million people shocked the monarchy to its foundations.
Nicholas Witchell, who worked in Panorama in the 90s, is also due to give evidence. At the time he contacted Patrick Jephson, the Princess’s private secretary, and they had planned lunch meetings with the Princess at Kensington Palace to discuss an idea for a programme about the constitution; but the meetings never took place. The BBC moved Witchell on to become diplomatic correspondent and instead replaced him on Panorama with a highly regarded but junior reporter, Martin Bashir. Approaching Lord Spencer directly, Bashir changed his idea for the content of the programme and with forged bank statements that suggested there might be a leak inside the Palace, won over his trust. As a result, this led Bashir to the real prize — access to the Princess.
At the time, Lord Hall conducted a secretive internal investigation but never contacted Lord Spencer. So, whether Hall knew or did not know what was going on inside the nation’s state-funded, trust-worthy broadcaster, it is hard to envisage how its reputation will emerge untarnished from this Machiavellian mess.