Diana, the reporter and the BBC
The full story of how Martin Bashir got his 1995 interview with Princess Diana – and what happened next https://t.co/Zvx5ftYskK
— BBC News (World) (@BBCWorld) May 24, 2021
I can remember being in the BBC Newsroom at TV Centre, the night Princess Diana was interviewed by Martin Bashir. I was doing a night shift for BBC Breakfast News.
We were all astonished at what we saw. I remember it clearly and virtually all other news was put to one side that evening. It was all hands to the pump to get the best reaction the next morning.
Martin Bashir’s star was on the rise – spectacularly. He was obviously an ambitious reporter and a couple of years later left the BBC for ITV. They used to say, the BBC is where you learn, ITV is where you earn and that was probably the case then.
While at ITV he secured an even more spectacular exclusive interview with Michael Jackson – and there may be fallout from that, too.
Alarm bells should have sounded
His reputation at an all-time high, he crossed the pond and began a lucrative career in the USA as a star presenter. But that did not last. The exclusives dried up and in 2016 he was re-hired by the BBC as Religion Editor while Tony Hall was Director General. This is the same Tony Hall who is now being criticised for not investigating Bashir more rigorously when doubts began to emerge about the way he secured the Princess Diana interview. It was interesting that this event somehow slipped under the radar. There was no fanfare, no real publicity, no real coverage. Remember, he used to be the BBC’s star reporter at one time. Alarm bells should have sounded then.
Has the BBC lost its “aura” of trust?
So, what happens now? A new Director General has sent fulsome apologies to those affected and some members of the Royal Family are suggesting that the Bashir interview was somehow linked to Princess Diana’s death two years later.
There is a wider story here. Has the BBC lost its “aura” of trust? Being a not-for-profit organisation has always meant that it can report differently to national newspapers and commercial channels, because it does not have to make a profit. But it still needs to attract viewers, in order to stay relevant and justify the Licence Fee.
Can we continue to trust the BBC’s reporting? BBC Producer Guidelines have always used the phrase “proper balance and due impartiality” when setting the gold standard for BBC reporting.
During any media training session we nearly always suggest accepting the offer of a live BBC interview because of this. We can also rehearse you in front of cameras to say what you want to say during a live interview and answer difficult questions. There is still some level of honesty and trust there at the BBC, in spite of what we are learning now about Martin Bashir.
Moving forwards, that level of balance and impartiality is more likely to remain intact at the BBC, precisely because of the fallout from the Bashir interview.
More Scrutiny at the BBC
Every news story, every interview, every sound byte is now going to come under intense scrutiny at the BBC, as never before. No one wants to fall foul of the new Director General, Tim Davie. Journalists are terrified of losing their jobs, because a BBC staff job is like gold dust.
The BBC will continue its unique brand of public service broadcasting, well beyond the lifespan of this particular news cycle and long after the Martin Bashir story has run its course.
There will, of course, be fallout. Heads, or rather reputations, will probably roll. The BBC may even be the subject of legal action, possibly by members of the Royal Family.
Meanwhile, a short term side-effect could be that our clients get softer interviews from all BBC outlets, because everyone is treading on egg shells and no one is prepared to take risks, for now.
Never has the WW2 motto been more applicable – Keep Calm and Carry On!
This blog was written by Andrew Carapiet, Director of Media Friendly. For more information around Media Awareness, Media Training, Social Media Training, Crisis Management, Crisis Media Training, Broadcast Media Training, Radio and Television interview training, Proactive PR or Leading the Conversation, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or phone us on 01628-474154. Full details are on our website www.mediafriendly.org.