Legal Challenges Facing Journalists: That Princess Diana Interview
When Martin Bashir from the BBC conducted an interview with Princess Diana in 1995, which changed the course of Royal family history, did he consider the media laws associated with reporting? or did he just disregard them for his moment of fame?
In recent months, a 1995 interview with Princess Diana, conducted by Journalist Martin Bashir, has been re-investigated and caused mass speculation due to the debatable consent for the interview from the Princess of Wales, as Bashir had allegedly used forged documents and potentially made Diana agree to the interview under false pretences. The interview changed the course of royal history as she remarkably discussed her husband’s, Prince Charles, extramarital affair with Camilla Parker Bowles, the now Duchess of Cornwall.
“The whole premise of the interview was set up on false and dodgy grounds,” Richard Kay
This investigation has come out at the perfect time, with the new season of The Crown being released on Netflix, I’m sure this scandal has caught the attention of many Crown watchers, much like myself. It made me wonder, what laws did Mr Bashir disregard when arranging this interview? For this, I decided to look at the ISPO Editors Code of Practice.
The IPSO (Independent Press Standards Organisation) Editors Code of Practice is a set of rules and regulations used within the press that set a framework for the highest standard of professionalism, and the members of the press have to agree to follow. Now we all know that the BBC is a global media giant, and they hold a lot of power within the press industry, but even the giants still have to abide by certain rules in order to be accurate and respectful to both the public and the individual. Some of the rules from the IPSO Code are as follows:
ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and — where appropriate — an apology published. In cases involving IPSO, due prominence should be as required by the regulator.
In this case, if has been stated that Bashir had approached Matt Weissler, who was a graphic designer for BBC at the time, for “some bank statements”. He would then use these forged documents to trick Princess Diana’s brother, Charles Spencer, and get him to introduce the journalist to his sister. To me, this would count as a “significant inaccuracy”, as the documents weren’t reliable, and therefore the arrangement of the interview was formed on “dodgy grounds”. Also, the BBC never formally apologised for the interview.
However, the primary information that Princess Diana shared in the interview was accurate and reliable. For example, her talking about Prince Charles’ affair with Camilla Parker Bowles was factually accurate. So, although the stages to get to the interview were inaccurate and formed on false grounds, the information reported on from the interview was factually accurate. This leads to the debate; did Bashir break the accuracy code? or did he carefully take steps around it but not directly break it?
ii) Editors will be expected to justify intrusions into any individual’s private life without consent. In considering an individual’s reasonable expectation of privacy, account will be taken of the complainant’s own public disclosures of information and the extent to which the material complained about is already in the public domain or will become so.
The forged documents that Bashir produced in order for Princess Diana to consent to the interview alleged suggested that the palace staff were working against Princess Diana and being paid to spy on her, which understandably would make anyone protect their own back and consent to something that they thought would protect them. Although Diana did consent for the interview, does it count if what she consented to was based off false information and therefore misleading?
It’s an interesting debate to see how exactly Bashir disregarded journalism law and ethics, and I’m sure as the BBC investigation progresses, more information shall arise. But for now, in my opinion, I can see how the Duke of Cambridge has welcomed the inquiry once again, as “It should help establish the truth behind the actions and decisions taken by those in the BBC at the time.”