Princes William and Harry have condemned BBC leaders who “looked the other way” and a “culture of exploitation and unethical practices” within journalism after a BBC cover-up of the deceit that led to the 1995 Panorama interview with their mother was revealed.
Lord Dyson’s report found Martin Bashir commissioned fake bank statements and used “deceitful behaviour” to secure the headline-setting interview, with his actions later covered up by senior BBC managers.
The BBC has written to the royal family to apologise for the circumstances surrounding the interview, in which Diana said: “Well, there were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded”, a reference to Camilla Parker Bowles – who Charles later married.
The BBC has also sent personal expressions of regret to the Queen, Prince of Wales, the Dukes of Cambridge and Sussex, and Diana’s brother Charles, Earl Spencer.
Prince William said in a statement: “The interview was a major contribution to making my parents’ relationship worse and has since hurt countless others.
“It brings indescribable sadness to know that the BBC’s failures contributed significantly to her fear, paranoia and isolation that I remember from those final years with her.
“But what saddens me most, is that if the BBC had properly investigated the complaints and concerns first raised in 1995, my mother would have known that she had been deceived.
“She was failed not just by a rogue reporter, but by leaders at the BBC who looked the other way rather than asking the tough questions.”
However William also shared his support for journalists in general: “In an era of fake news, public service broadcasting and a free press have never been more important. These failings, identified by investigative journalists, not only let my mother down, and my family down; they let the public down too.”
The Mail on Sunday broke the story in 1996 that Bashir had falsified bank documents weeks before his interview with Diana. In the past year reporting by The Sunday Times and Channel 4 brought the story back to the top of the agenda.
William’s younger brother Harry was more sweeping in his condemnation of UK press culture.
He has previously called the UK press “bigoted, specifically the tabloids” and launched privacy, libel and phone-hacking claims and IPSO complaints against the likes of the Mail on Sunday, Splash News and Pictures, and the publishers of The Sun and The Mirror.
Harry said: “Our mother was an incredible woman who dedicated her life to service. She was resilient, brave, and unquestionably honest.
“The ripple effect of a culture of exploitation and unethical practices ultimately took her life. To those who have taken some form of accountability, thank you for owning it.
“That is the first step towards justice and truth. Yet what deeply concerns me is that practices like these—and even worse—are still widespread today.
“Then, and now, it’s bigger than one outlet, one network, or one publication. Our mother lost her life because of this, and nothing has changed.
“By protecting her legacy, we protect everyone, and uphold the dignity with which she lived her life. Let’s remember who she was and what she stood for.”
When his wife Meghan Markle launched her long-running privacy case against the Mail on Sunday in 2019, Harry said it was “one incident in a long and disturbing pattern of behaviour by British tabloid media”.
Six months later the couple wrote to the editors of The Sun, the Daily Mail, the Daily Express and the Daily Mirror to say they were ceasing all co-operation as they refused to “offer themselves up as currency for an economy of click bait and distortion”.
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said the Government will look at whether any reforms of BBC governance were required as a result of the Lord Dyson report, which he said “reveals damning failings at the heart of the BBC.
“We will now reflect on Lord Dyson’s thorough report and consider whether further governance reforms at the BBC are needed in the mid-term Charter review.
“I welcome the fact that the new leadership launched this independent inquiry and expect them to ensure that this can never happen again.”
Picture: Paul Grover/Pool via Reuters
Additional reporting by PA