The BBC on Monday launched a review into the broadcaster’s culture and editorial practices as it scrambles to deal with the backlash to a damning report into its interview with Diana, Princess of Wales 25 years ago.
Anger over the events have resurfaced after an inquiry carried out by the former Supreme Court judge Lord John Dyson last week found that BBC reporter Martin Bashir lied to obtain an interview with the princess.
It was later covered up by a “woefully ineffective” internal investigation by Lord Tony Hall, a senior BBC News executive at the time who would go on to become the broadcaster’s director-general.
On Saturday Hall, who served as director-general between 2013 and 2020, stepped down from his role as chair of the National Gallery citing the “distraction” the controversy was causing the institution. Meanwhile, another former BBC News executive, Tim Suter, resigned from the board of the UK’s media regulator Ofcom on Friday.
The controversy over the interview has also cast a shadow over the future of the BBC, which is currently negotiating its funding agreement with a hostile Conservative government.
“As members of the BBC Board we were, like so many others, concerned by the findings in Lord Dyson’s report into the 1995 Panorama interview with Diana, Princess of Wales,” the board said in a statement.
It stressed that “the BBC is a different organisation today, with different and stronger governance, as well as improved processes”, but added that it would not “assume that mistakes of the past cannot be repeated today — we must make sure that this is the case”.
The review will be led by non-executive board member Sir Nick Serota and supported by Ian Hargreaves and Sir Robbie Gibb, who sit on the broadcaster’s committee for editorial guidelines and standards.
They will report back to the board in September, after an inquiry that aside from the BBC’s editorial practices will review the “robustness and independence” of whistleblowing practices.
However, Hall, who led an internal investigation into the interview in 1996, is facing questions over why Bashir was rehired by the BBC in 2016.
BBC chair Richard Sharp, who took over the role from Sir David Clementi earlier this year, said on Monday there had been “clear failures” at the broadcaster.
He told BBC Radio 4’s World at One: “There’s no doubt, and the Dyson report reveals this, that the practices adopted in advance of the interview were entirely unacceptable in any ethical news journalism and broadcasting entity, and that was a clear failure.
“Subsequently, it’s also clear that the approach to reviewing the programme and the practices failed, and that’s a separate failure which was identified in the prince’s [Duke of Cambridge] statement to do with one of governance, accountability and scrutiny.”
Sharp added that he trusted Hall’s replacement as director-general, Tim Davie, to investigate why Bashir had been rehired.
The board’s statement came as Oliver Dowden, culture secretary, accused the BBC of “groupthink” and argued that its new leadership should focus on “cultural change” at the organisation.
“We will not make knee-jerk reforms,” Dowden said in a piece published by The Times, “but will use the midterm [review of the BBC’s charter] to determine whether the governance and regulatory arrangements should be strengthened”.
The government has been accused of trying to undermine the BBC, as it wages a culture war aiming to reset the balance of opinion at the top of the UK’s cultural and media institutions.