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BBC Bashir survey feeds trust deficit

By Mal Fletcher - posted Thursday, 27 May 2021

In an age of increasing media diversification (aka splintering), the BBC is still one of the world's leading news organisations. Its commitment to placing news gatherers in all the right places and attempting to provide a balance of views - internationally if not domestically - is highly regarded.

The controversy surrounding former BBC journalist Martin Bashir, however, creates a new set of problems that will damage public trust - and not only trust in the BBC.

This comes at a time when widely trusted broadcasters are scarce on the ground. Some earlier contenders have dropped away, having fallen under the spell of ultra-left or -right ideologies and lost their sense of the middle ground.


When Martin Bashir's interview with Princess Diana was broadcast in November 1995, the BBC was lauded for producing a global exclusive. It was the envy of the media world.

Riding this success, Bashir took up lucrative positions with other broadcasters in the UK and the USA. In the end, he parted company with some of them on less-than-happy terms. In at least one case, he was dismissed because he used falsehoods to set up interviews.

Stories about faked documents and misleading claims about public figures related to the Diana interview have been drifting around for years. This week's release of an independent report by Lord Dyson demonstrates once and for all the culpability not only of Bashir but of senior company executives who provided him with cover after the event.

Those decisions will have potentially serious long-term implications on at least three levels.

First, there will be a price to pay for all electronic media in this country - and the BBC in particular. People will be right to ask whether we have strong and independent enough accountability structures in place - and tough enough penalties for wrongdoers.

If the media wants to keep public figures to account, they will ask, who will keep the media honest? That's a question governments and other institutions will need to answer.


There are also implications for the battle between traditional and digital media platforms. Netflix et al. don't (yet) deal with news, so there's less scope for them to be accused of peddling inaccuracies or falsehoods.

Digital platforms are hugely attractive to young people, whom the BBC and other broadcasters are desperate to attract. Studies show that today's younger generations are also very sensitive when it comes to trust and ethics issues.

Most important, though, will be the flow-on effect of this scandal on public trust in institutions generally. This trust is based on an anticipation of ethical behaviour and a scrupulous pursuit of the public's best interests.

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About the Author

Mal Fletcher is a media social futurist and commentator, keynote speaker, author, business leadership consultant and broadcaster currently based in London. He holds joint Australian and British citizenship.

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