Dowden warns BBC culture must change after Diana interview scandal

·3-min read

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden has accused the BBC of adopting a “we know best” attitude in the scandal surrounding its Panorama interview with Diana, Princess of Wales.

In his first detailed response since the report from Lord Dyson, Mr Dowden said the affair had exposed “failures that strike at the heart of our national broadcaster’s values and culture”.

Writing in The Times he said far-reaching change was needed to ensure the corporation was in tune with “all parts of the nation it serves”.

In his report, Lord Dyson, a former master of the rolls, said journalist Martin Bashir used “deceitful conduct” to obtain the 1995 interview which was then covered up by a “woefully ineffective” internal investigation.

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowde
Oliver Dowden (Yui Mok)

Mr Dowden said the BBC’s leadership was too narrowly drawn – succumbing to ”groupthink” – and that “cultural change” was needed in the organisation.

“The BBC can occasionally succumb to a ‘we know best’ attitude that is detached both from the criticism and the values of all parts of the nation it serves,” he said.

“Groupthink in any organisation results in a lack of challenge and poor decision making. That’s why cultural change must be a focus for the director general and new chair.”

Mr Dowden said the BBC needed “to improve its culture to ensure this never happens again and that means a new emphasis on accuracy, impartiality and diversity of opinion”.

His warning came after Home Secretary Priti Patel refused to rule out the prospect of criminal prosecutions after Lord Dyson’s findings.

She told Sky News: “If there is subsequent action that needs to be taken, then clearly… that will follow.”

With the BBC facing a mid-term review of its charter next year, Mr Dowden said the Government would not be rushed into “knee jerk reforms”, but it would not “stand idly by”.

Further ahead, he indicated there were “fundamental questions” about the future of the licence fee beyond 2027 as it competes with US streaming giants like Amazon and Netflix.

He suggested the only way the BBC could justify its funding model was by providing distinctively British programmes.

He said it needed to “step up to project British values and distinct quality programming with renewed vigour and ambition as our national champion”.

Martin Bashir
Martin Bashir said he never wanted to harm Diana (Ian West/PA)

In the fallout from the Dyson report, former BBC director general Lord Hall – who, as head of news and current affairs, carried out the 1996 internal investigation into the way the Diana interview was obtained – quit at the weekend as chairman of the National Gallery.

MPs are expected to press for answers as to how Bashir was rehired by the BBC in 2016 as religious affairs correspondent – later promoted to religion editor – even though it was known he lied to the internal inquiry.

There have been calls for compensation for BBC “whistleblowers” whose careers suffered after they tried to raise concerns about the way Bashir operated.

He said he was “deeply sorry” to the dukes of Cambridge and Sussex but disputed William’s charge that he fuelled Diana’s isolation and paranoia.

He told the Sunday Times: “I never wanted to harm Diana in any way and I don’t believe we did. Everything we did in terms of the interview was as she wanted.”