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MPs set to quiz BBC bosses over Bashir row

Will we ever be able to trust the BBC again? Today MPs plan to summon BBC bosses to give testimony about the Martin Bashir scandal and the safeguards in place to prevent a repeat. It was the interview of the century. On the night of 20 November 1995, more than 20 million people across the UK turned on their televisions and watched Princess Diana pour out her heart to a young BBC journalist called Martin Bashir. Never before had a member of the Royal Family spoken so candidly. Diana admitted to an affair, and spoke of her struggles with an eating disorder. She told Bashir how Prince Charles’ own affair with Camilla Parker Bowles had made her feel worthless: “There were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded.” For the BBC, the Panorama interview was a major scoop. It kickstarted the career of Martin Bashir, turning the young reporter into a household name. Yet for the princess, the consequences were devastating. Charles and Diana had already been separated for three years. After the interview aired, the Queen instructed them to divorce. But now, a shocking new report has concluded that Bashir lied to Diana to gain her trust, using fake bank documents to convince the princess’s brother Earl Spencer that officials were being paid to spy on her. Then, when a graphic designer raised the alarm about Bashir’s deceit, it was the whistleblower, not Bashir, who was fired. In 1996, the BBC cleared itself of any wrongdoing. A 25 year cover-up began. “The BBC fell short of the high standards of integrity and transparency which are its hallmark,” declared the report’s author, former judge Lord Dyson. The reaction was swift, and brutal. “The BBC’s deceit and lies is the most shameful episode in its history,” wrote journalist Andy Webb on Thursday. The organisation is “severely injured, probably scarred,” added the BBC’s own media editor Amol Rajan. After months of public spats, the news even united Diana’s sons. “It brings indescribable sadness to know that the BBC’s failures contributed significantly to her fear, paranoia and isolation,” said Prince William. For Prince Harry, the interview contributed to the “ripple effect of a culture of exploitation and unethical practices” that ultimately led to his mother’s death. And now, the Commons digital, culture, media and sport committee will meet to discuss plans for a one-off special evidence session on the row engulfing the broadcaster, according to sources close to the committee. There is no doubt: the report is hugely damaging for the BBC. The national broadcaster enjoys huge levels of public support, not just in the UK but around the world. One 2020 poll found that Americans trust BBC News more than CNN, The Wall Street Journal and even The New York Times. Every week, the BBC reaches more than 430 million people outside Britain. Now, as it faces an onslaught of condemnation, the BBC’s supporters know that maintaining public trust is key to the organisation’s survival. “Yes, both Bashir and the BBC were right to apologise over this - but it tells us little about the BBC’s journalism at large - routinely brave, accurate and obsessively balanced,” said journalist Sean O’Grady. For columnist Jane Martinson, the way forward is clear: “If the BBC is to survive, as it must, it needs to learn from its mistakes of the past 26 years.” Will we ever be able to trust the BBC again? Web of deceit Definitely not, say some. Senior BBC officials have known for years about Martin Bashir’s dishonesty, but he was employed by the corporation until as recently as two weeks ago. The BBC may be Britain’s public broadcaster, but this scandal shows that it is not above using underhanded tactics. As Prince William said, the BBC not only let down his family, but the public as well. Of course, say others. The report was scathing, but we should not dismiss an entire organisation for the actions of a select group of individuals more than 25 years ago. The BBC has apologised and promised to change. The fact that the organisation commissioned its own independent investigation is a positive sign. This is a critical moment for the BBC, but not a fatal one. KeywordsWhistleblower - Someone who exposes secretive behaviour by a group or organisation; once used to describe police who blew whistles to signal the scene of a crime.

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