Fake News How It Was Done

The BBC was exposed as faking documents that helped it secure the infamous Princess Diana interview. The fakery was revealed a year afterwards, But it’s taken the BBC another 24 years to start admitting guilt.

The Mail on Sunday journalists who broke the story 24 years ago that Panorama’s Martin Bashir falsified bank statements to help secure his Princess Diana interview are still furious at how their scoop was ignored.

“We brought in the biggest story of the year and we should be given due credit for that.”

Speaking to the Press Gazette, Nick Fielding added: “I feel very strongly about it. We did our job. We acted as good journalists. We stood up a story that has not been faulted in any respect.

“All that’s happened is everyone else has climbed on board and suddenly realised that what we got was valuable. I feel Press Gazette should have a special award.

“It was a great story and it was ignored for all sorts of reasons which we now know are because of lies and everything else. I was very proud of it as a piece of work.”

Bashir Diana fake
Mail on Sunday scoop April 1996 on allegations Martin Bashir faked private bank documents ahead of his Princess Diana Panorama interview. Picture: Jason Lewis

Fielding and Lewis revealed Bashir had asked a BBC graphic designer to create bank statements, which purported to show the former head of security for Diana’s brother Earl Spencer had received thousands from News International for information, just weeks before the interview was broadcast in November 1995.

Their splash described Bashir’s actions as “an extraordinary breach of BBC journalistic ethics” and, although the broadcaster confirmed the documents had been created, their significance was downplayed following an internal investigation into whether Diana was misled.

Now, however, director-general Tim Davie has apologised to Earl Spencer and pledged a “robust and independent” investigation – although graphic designer Matt Wiessler and Alan Waller, the Earl’s ex-head of security who was smeared, have not received an apology.

Fielding saw little interest in the story for a quarter of a century until he was approached by documentary makers, and he appears in the second episode of ITV’s The Diana Interview.

“I feel that that’s how things should have been all along – we should have got a very good show and Bashir should have been fired out there and then for his disgusting techniques,” he said.

Martin Bashir Diana fake
BBC journalist Martin Bashir. Picture: PA

Bashir has been unable to answer to the allegations in the past week as the BBC said he is seriously unwell with Covid-19 complications – although the Mail Online published photos of him collecting a takeaway on Friday.

Fielding said the Mail on Sunday’s original reporting did not include further dishonesty Earl Spencer alleges relating to Bashir, but said the fake bank statements were enough to call the journalist’s actions into question.

“I worked in Fleet Street for many years and I never saw behaviour like this,” Fielding added.

“This was quite clearly cornering a very vulnerable person and putting them under intense pressure to the point where she and her brother were unable to make a rational decision about what to do.”

His former colleague Lewis agreed, saying that if the allegations were about a tabloid journalist rather than the BBC there would have been “hell to pay”.

Both men pointed out they had shown a “pattern of behaviour” from Bashir, as their follow-up scoop one week later reported that documents were also mocked up for his Panorama investigation into England football manager Terry Venables’ business dealings.

Of the response to their scoop 24 years ago, Lewis said: “Nobody really reacted. The BBC dismissed it because they were protecting their scoop and Earl Spencer didn’t cooperate with us, probably because they didn’t want to damage the credibility of the interview because the interview meant something to them.”

He added: “We were very clear that what we had was proof that these documents were faked, that they were forgeries, and the BBC didn’t really seem to do anything about it at the time. Martin Bashir went off and had a very successful career in America and made lots of money off the fact he was now this very well-known interviewer.”

Lewis said it was “slightly disconcerting” to find himself now part of history.

“At the time we proved that there were these fake documents – the BBC admitted they were fake documents, they played down the significance,” he said.

“Earl Spencer presumably was in a position to say there was some significance to these documents, they had been shown and they had influenced his decision – it’s only now he’s saying that so that’s a question for him. But the story has not really changed.

“Now we know from very good use of the Freedom of Information Act by the documentary makers about what was going on within the BBC but it’s not particularly surprising to us because they were being very difficult and evasive when we were asking these questions 25 years ago.”

Picture: Jason Lewis

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Chief Palestinian peace advocate, Chief Palestinian propagandist or Chief Palestinian liar? Saeb Erekat is dead.

Jericho was first made famous by the Old Testament, when it describes how the Jewish leader Joshua circled around the city seven times, after which its walls collapsed.

More recently, it’s a major city in the West Bank, where mostly Arab Palestinians have had control, while Israeli forces man exits and entrances to this town in a valley well below sea level, and close to the trickle that these days is all that’s left of the River Jordan.

It’s also been the home of Saeb Erekat, often touted as a possible successor to the Palestinian Authority’s president Mahmoud Abbas. He died, aged 65, in an Israeli hospital this week, after being infected by Covid-19 while in Jericho. He had already undergone a lung transplant three years ago in the USA — and had suffered a heart attack.

I met Erekat several times, including in his Jericho home, and he always came across as a sincere but very frustrated person. His frustration stemmed from the pressures he felt from all sides. “People here in my city have warned me they want me dead,” he told me, “because they cannot see where these interminable talks between the Israelis and the Palestinian Authority were going”.

In fact the talks went nowhere – or somewhere that many Palestinians did not like.

He was suspected, by many of his people, to be ‘soft’ on Israel, especially after notes from informal meetings between the negotiating teams of Palestinians and Israelis were leaked to Al Jazeera in 2011. He appeared willing to make concessions that contradicted the public stance of the PA leadership.

Yet he supported a Palestinian Authority decision to cut off talks with Israel several years ago – and to boycott the United States peace efforts too after it recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital city.

In recent months he firmly rejected any moves by Arab States, especially those in the Gulf, to make peace with Israel, demanding that the Palestinian Authority had a right to veto any such deal till it got a state of its own.

Using huge amounts of British government aid money, he established a strong propaganda arm, though, for the Authority. His Department for Negotiations Affairs put out a case for Palestinian statehood – based on a strongly-contested narrative of victimhood and on misleading maps.

Even in an arena where exaggeration is a speciality, Erekat excelled.

Early in 2002 Palestinian suicide bombers had killed over 100 Israelis (mostly civilians) in 35 days of carnage in various parts of the Jewish State. The Israelis decided to root out what they considered to be terrorist cells based in various cities and villages in the West Bank, where attacks were prepared with apparent impunity.

The Israeli assault on these targets centred on the northern West Bank cities of Jenin and Nablus. On April 11, Erekat told CNN’s Bill Hemmer that, “They are burying more than 300 Palestinian in Jenin refugee camp alone.” Ensconced in Jericho, Erekat then told several Western reporters by phone – including me – that at least 500 were dead in Jenin.

Six days later he tweaked the death toll further, this time to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, in a flurry of internal self-contradiction: “We have 1,600 missing men in this refugee camp. Mostly women and children, husbands and wives . . . How many people were massacred: We say the number will not be less than 500,” Erekat declared to CNN and other Western news outlets.

Very soon, even usually sober newspapers like The Times and broadcasters like the BBC were openly affirming that a massacre had taken place. The Times correspondent, who was interviewed by the BBC, compared it with the ‘massacre of Sabra and Shatila’, a genuine massacre of civilians that had occurred in Lebanon in 1982. (The killers in that event were all Christian Phalangists, but Israeli forces had control of the entrances to the two Palestinian refugee camps.)

The actual death toll in Jenin was 52 Palestinians and 23 Israelis – a United Nations report stated three months later. (See below)

Erekat’s wildly exaggerated claims had been contradicted within days, from a seemingly unlikely source. Erekat’s colleague, the governor of Jenin, Mousa Abu Mousa. This reporter filmed him looking over a list of the Palestinian dead. It contained only 50 names. The United Nations secretary-general decided to withdraw efforts for an on-the-spot inspection team to go there, but criticised Israel for being obstructive.


Here, for the record, is an objective news agency account, published months later — far too late to have blunted the thrust of Erekat’s propaganda:

UN report rejects claims of Jenin massacre


Thursday 1 August 2002 16.00 BST

The Jenin incursion, which began in early April, was the heaviest fighting in Israel’s six-week campaign that began on March 29 this year. The Israeli army lost 23 soldiers in the camp and, in the weeks after the battle, the Palestinian cabinet minister, Saeb Erekat, said that 500 people had been killed.

The UN report, prepared by the secretary general, Kofi Annan, after Israel refused a fact-finding mission access to the camp, said 52 Palestinian deaths had been confirmed by April 18, and that up to half may have been civilians.

It called the Palestinian allegation “a figure that has not been substantiated in the light of evidence that has emerged”, the diplomats said.

Israel, which had repeatedly denied any massacre took place, praised the report. It had previously claimed that 22 Palestinian gunmen were killed in the fighting.

“Israel welcomes this finding, as well as the determination that the armed Palestinians deliberately took up position in a densely populated locality,” a spokesman for the Israeli foreign ministry, Jonathan Peled, said.

The violence in the camp came during an Israeli offensive in the West Bank, launched after a suicide bomb attack that killed 29 Israelis.

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False assumptions behind who’s to blame for the failed Palestinian Israeli ‘peace process’

(Left to right): Arafat, Mubarak, Rabin and Peres