The BBC and Their Court Cases, When Will They Learn?

From Princess Diana to Sir Cliff Richard, the BBC has faced several legal challenges which shows how important it is to follow the law

Abby Wynne
4 min readDec 4, 2020
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Being a Brit, I am ashamed to say that I am not as well informed about the Royal family as I should be. However, earlier this week, I sat down to watch the 2 part documentary on ITV; “The Diana Interview: Revenge Of A Princess”.

I finally learnt about the interview which over 23 million people tuned into in 1995. The interview which Princess Diana spilled all. The interview which left the Queen with no other option than to order Charles and Diana to seek a divorce.

On the 20th of Novemer, it was the 25th anniversary of the BBC Panorama interview held between Princess Diana and Martin Bashir. Coincidentally, the Netflix drama, “The Crown”, aired its new season just five days prior, which Charles and Diana’s relationship is in the limelight.

The Crown has suffered from a large amount of backlash in the press about the portrayal of Prince Charles and Princess Diana’s relationship; the public claiming it was sinister and inaccurate.

The Crown Season 4 Trailer

Inevitably, the anniversary of the interview, and the attention of Charles’ and Diana’s relationship on The Crown, has brought a lot of past issues back to the surface. It has raised questions on how the interviewer and journalist, Martin Bashir, was able to conduct the interview.

Why was it brushed under the carpet that Bashir used forged bank statements to get to the princess? And how did he get away with making defamatory comments about the royal family?

Diana’s brother, Earl Spencer, said;

“It was only because of this anniversary that various TV production companies were looking into the real depths of what went on, and they got the Freedom of Information Act which made the BBC release certain papers.”

What did Martin Bashir do that was unethical?

Martin Bashir asked graphic designer, Matt Wiessler, to produce fake bank statements to convince Diana to have an interview.

As a result, Matt Wiessler was fired from the BBC, but Martin Bashir didn’t face any consequences, nor did the BBC.

Earl Spencer claims that if it wasn’t for the forged bank notes, then he wouldn’t have introduced Bashir to his sister.

The Daily Mail published Earl Spencer’s thoughts on the matter, along with his notes from a meeting with the Princess and Martin Bashir.

It is alleged that Martin Bashir told 32 lies to the Princess in this meeting including:

  • Diana’s car was tracked and phone tapped;
  • Her bodyguard was plotting against her, and;
  • MI6 had recorded Prince Charles and his private secretary planning the ‘end game’.

25 years on the BBC is finally taking some action. They are in the progress of commissioning a “robust and independent” investigation to get to the bottom of it.

The fact that the interview was 25 years ago, and is still coming back to bite Martin Bashir, and the BBC, shows how important it is for journalists to comply with ethical guidelines and journalism laws.

What other journalism laws are there?

There are many different laws that protect journalists and the public. Without these laws then journalists could do what they pleased and invade people’s privacy, write fake stories, and ruin people’s reputations.

Some of the main laws are:

  1. Defamation Act 2013
  2. The Human Rights Act 1998 — freedom of expression is balanced with the right to respect for privacy.
  3. 1988 Copyright, Patents and Designs Act: Authorial/primary works- LDMA and Entrepreneurial/derivative/secondary works- SFBCT.

The IPSO Code of Practice outlines the rules that newspapers and magazines have agreed to follow and it is the responsibility of editors and publishers to apply the Code to both printed and online versions of their publications.

“It is a professional necessity that journalists learn about media law to the highest standard possible.”

Journalists are allowed to breach these ethical guidelines if it is in the public interest.

For example;

  • Detecting or exposing crime, or the threat of crime, or serious impropriety.
  • Protecting public health or safety.
  • Protecting the public from being misled by an action or statement of an individual or organisation.

Sir Cliff Richard privacy case with the BBC

Earlier this week Sir Cliff Richard was featured on Lorraine. He spoke about the 4 years of his life which “he will never get back”. He had sued the BBC for defamation and invasion of his privacy — it sorely affected his reputation despite the fact that he was proven innocent.

2:40 mins onwards

The BBC broadcasted footage from a helicopter of his house getting raided by the police. Consequently, he sued the BBC for invading his privacy and won the case (2M settlement).

The BBC apologised for invading his privacy but went on to say that in their opinion, this privacy ruling could hinder freedom of the press going forward.

This case went on for an extended period, with the BBC defending themselves, and media attention inaccurately influencing public opinion. In addition, this demonstrates how much money can be lost due to a court case, and how important it is to stick to the law.

But, was it in the public interest? If he was an accused child sex offender then could this be an example of exposing crime and protecting public safety?

The case is critically analysed here —

As a journalist, it is important to know your rights so that you can protect yourself, and stay out of any timely and costly legal challenges.

If the BBC can still make errors, then so can you.

Learn the laws and be ethical!

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Abby Wynne

30% perfectly poised, 30% journalism aficionado, 40% stellar writer, 100% modest. Grab a drink and join me exploring all things #sportsjournalism.