A judge has criticised the BBC for withholding numerous emails concerning the Martin Bashir scandal surrounding Princess Diana’s 1995 Panorama interview.
The documents were sought by a journalist probing the corporation’s awareness and actions regarding the reporter’s conduct.
Martin Bashir officially resigned from the BBC in 2021 after revelations that he obtained the interview through deceit and forged documents.
The court’s decision pertains to a freedom of information request by journalist Andy Webb, aiming to access BBC managers’ emails discussing Bashir during a specific two-month period in 2020, the BBC reported.
The BBC initially shared a limited number of messages with Webb, but it was later revealed that over 3,000 emails existed.
The corporation argued that these contained either “irrelevant” or “legally privileged” information.
Judge Brian Kennedy ordered the BBC to release more emails, citing inconsistencies, errors, and unreliability in their handling of the initial request.
He expressed serious concern over the BBC’s response to the matter.
In response, the BBC acknowledged errors but stated that it is reviewing the judgment. Additionally, the corporation apologised to Webb and the tribunal for the situation.
In an article for the Mail on Sunday, Webb expressed his approval of the judgment, emphasizing the public interest in revealing the internal emails.
Earl Spencer, princess Diana’s brother, and a supporter of Webb’s investigation into the matter, conveyed to the BBC that the integrity of individuals within the organisation was at risk.
“People at the BBC who are responsible for this have hidden behind expensive lawyers at a time when the BBC, this great national and international institution, is making cuts. And I think that’s obscene,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Broadcasting House programme.
During his appearance on the programme, he recounted his 2020 attempt to contact BBC management about Bashir, stating that he was informed Bashir was too unwell to engage in conversation.
Earl Spencer expressed suspicion that a narrative was being crafted to make Bashir unavailable during a crucial period coinciding with the 25th anniversary of Diana’s interview.
He said that senior BBC figures should not shield themselves behind the organisation to safeguard their careers, advocating instead for responsible senior figures to protect the BBC.
Bashir’s exit from the BBC followed inquiries into the methods used to obtain the interview with Princess Diana, a highly impactful broadcast that drew over 20 million viewers.
However, doubts about the acquisition of the interview emerged shortly after it was broadcasted.
In 2021, a probe conducted by Lord Dyson, a former senior judge, found that Bashir employed deceit to secure the interview and subsequently misled BBC executives.
Additionally, a graphic artist from the BBC disclosed that he was requested by Bashir to create fabricated bank statements, indicating payments from a media organisation to a former member of Earl Spencer’s staff.
The Dyson report revealed that this action was aimed at earning Earl Spencer’s trust to facilitate Bashir’s introduction to Diana.
During questioning by BBC higher-ups, Bashir confessed to commissioning the false documents but persistently denied presenting them to Earl Spencer.
The report condemned Bashir’s behaviour, stating that he “lied and maintained the lie until he realised that it was no longer sustainable. This was most reprehensible behaviour which casts considerable doubt on his credibility generally.”
Bashir previously acknowledged that creating the documents was an error and expressed regret. However, he claimed that these documents did not influence Diana’s choice to participate in the interview.