Following an investigation into a 1995 BBC Panorama interview with the late Princess Diana, Prince William and Prince Harry are speaking out against the media network. In a statement, Prince William said the interview contributed to their mother's "fear, paranoia, and isolation," and to the collapse of her marriage to Prince Charles.
Interviewer Martin Bashir "made lurid and false claims about the Royal Family which played on her fears and fueled paranoia," said Prince William. He later added, "The interview was a major contribution to making my parents' relationship worse and has since hurt countless others."
In a separate statement, Prince Harry said his mother's death was a result of the "ripple effect of a culture of exploitation and unethical practices," which he says remain widespread even now. Harry and his wife Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex have also stepped back from their own royal duties, in part due to the same kind of tabloid hostility.
"Our mother lost her life because of this, and nothing has changed. By protecting her legacy, we protect everyone, and uphold the dignity with which she lived her life," said Harry. But he also added that the problem is bigger than a single network or publication.
The brothers' statements came in response to an independent 127-page report, which was made public Thursday, conducted by retired judge Lord Dyson. The investigation found significant editorial and ethical breaches in Bashir’s efforts to obtain an interview with the late princess. According to the report, Bashir created fake bank statements and showed them to Diana's younger brother, Earl Spencer, in order to gain access to her. The forged statements purported that members of her staff were being paid to surveil the princess. After Bashir showed Spencer these documents, he gained his trust so that he would introduce Bashir to Diana for the interview.
"What saddens me most, is that if the BBC had properly investigated the complaints and concerns first raised in 1995, my mother would have known that she had been deceived," Prince William said. "She was failed not just by a rogue reporter, but by leaders at the BBC who looked the other way rather than asking the tough questions."
Still, the cost of media exploitation weighed on Princess Diana and her entire family. At the time, the princess was the most famous woman in the world, and chronicling her every move became profitable for the tabloid media. In recent years especially, the exploitative nature of tabloids and celebrity culture more broadly has come under scrutiny for their coverage of not only the royal family but also celebrities like Britney Spears, who had very little agency over her public image when she was the subject of obsessive tabloid reports throughout the early 2000s.
Meghan Markle has also faced her fair share of media manipulation — especially as the first British royal of color. While the royal family hosted "tabloid parties" to stay in the good graces of the media, Markle was frequently vilified in tabloids, being called things like "gangster royalty." In response to accusations that publications were using language charged with racism when discussing Markle, the Society of Editors, an umbrella group for most local and national British publications, said: "The UK media is not bigoted and we will not be swayed from its vital role holding the rich and powerful to account."
Media manipulation, pressure, and attacks are now running rampant — both in and out of the U.K. — especially when it comes to celebrities or people in power. On the subject of media abuse, Mara Wilson, known for her childhood role as Matilda told Refinery29, "We need to think about the way we objectify these people and take responsibility for that." She continued, "People say, 'Hollywood does this, Hollywood does that.' And I think that it's totally fine and acceptable to critique Hollywood and its treatment. But I think that people need to remember that what Hollywood is doing is giving people what it thinks they want."
It's been over 25 years since this interview took place, and the BBC and Martin Bashir have now apologized. "I apologized then, and I do so again now, over the fact that I asked for bank statements to be mocked up. It was a stupid thing to do and was an action I deeply regret." Still, he says he was happy with the outcome of the interview.
"The BBC should have made greater effort to get to the bottom of what happened at the time and been more transparent about what it knew," Tim Davie, the current director-general, said in a statement. "While the BBC cannot turn back the clock after a quarter of a century, we can make a full and unconditional apology."