New Times,
New Thinking.

The BBC and the government both have lessons to learn about institutional failure

The Bashir interview with Princess Diana and the Windrush scandal are stories of toxic bureaucratic culture.

By Stephen Bush

Two landmark reports into major failings by British institutions have been released today. The first, by the former Supreme Court judge John Dyson, probed allegations that the journalist Martin Bashir used deception to obtain his 1995 interview with Princess Diana, in which she accused Prince Charles of infidelity (“there were three of us in this marriage”), and the BBC’s handling of those claims of deception at the time. It made the front page of every national newspaper other than the FT

The report finds that Bashir “deceived and induced” the Princess’s brother, Charles Spencer, to obtain the interview, and that the BBC’s initial investigation into the claims of deception was inadequate. Prince William has rounded on the corporation, saying that the interview and the way it was conducted contributed to the paranoia and isolation his mother felt in the last years of her life. 

That so many of those involved in the initial investigation were able to move onwards and upwards means that the inquiry into a 1995 story has implications for the BBC today, and means that Oliver Dowden, the Culture Secretary, is once again making menacing noises about BBC reform. 

The second report is the National Audit Office’s investigation into the implementation of the Windrush Compensation Scheme. The NAO finds the scheme is not compensating victims quickly enough. And – perhaps most damningly for a casual observer – it concludes that the Home Office has opted not to compensate people who were wrongly ensnared by the hostile environment, which, financially speaking, makes it as if the affair had never happened. 

While the Bashir interview is the story of one person, and the Windrush scandal is the deeper and more significant tale of millions, they share important features: a bureaucratic culture that clamped down on internal challenge. The people in charge, Tony Hall of the BBC and Theresa May respectively, were able to progress in their institutions, and in both cases there are still serious questions about whether the culture of those organisations has changed since.

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how Progressive Media Investments may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

When ministers and MPs talk about the need for the BBC to “learn the lessons” of the Bashir case, they should also realise that advice should be applied closer to home. 


Content from our partners
Peatlands are nature's unsung climate warriors
How the apprenticeship levy helps small businesses to transform their workforce
How to reform the apprenticeship levy