Bashir: Will he continue to divide opinion as to his merits?

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Faces of the week

Last Updated: Friday, 21 May, 2004, 17:07 GMT 18:07 UK 

MARTIN BASHIR The journalist who will always be remembered for his “Queen of Hearts” interview with Princess Diana is to take up a lucrative post with ABC’s 20/20 show.

Will he continue to divide opinion as to his merits? A plum job in the US is quite something for a lad from a south London council estate, of Pakistani parents, who was bright enough to gain a first at Southampton University.

Martin Bashir’s climb up the journalistic ladder began as a freelance sports reporter, and progressed to local news TV correspondent, and then reporter for various BBC programmes including the current affairs flagship, Panorama.

It was here, in 1995, that he pulled off the journalistic scoop of the decade with the interview in which the doe-eyed Diana gave her riveting confessional about the three people in her marriage.

One might have expected Bashir’s profile, in this age of celebrity, to have risen rapidly. But this is not a man who courts publicity. He is a devout Christian, he refuses to be interviewed and doesn’t often venture on to the celebrity social scene. Despite his Diana coup, his attempts to become a daily news presenter were shunned by BBC bosses.

And colleagues spoke of his aloofness, his unwillingness to share information and the suspect means he used to persuade high-profile interviewees to open up to him on camera.

Questionable tactics?

The complaints followed him to ITV where he secured more high-profile interviews for Tonight with Trevor McDonald. The Duchess of York claimed Bashir had exploited Diana’s vulnerability by lulling her into a “comfort zone” to gain her confidence. And after his documentary Living with Michael Jackson aired, the pop star claimed to have been “betrayed”.

This was because Bashir appeared to sympathise with Jackson in person, while slamming him in the commentary recorded later (in one clip filmed by Jackson, Bashir tells the singer that his loving relationship with his children “almost makes me weep”). Bashir’s interview with the five men accused of the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence was described as “a travesty” by the lawyer acting for his parents. And a complaint by the father of a runaway teenage genius that Bashir and his ITV team deceived him into granting an interview was upheld by the Broadcast Standards Commission.

Sticks and stones PR guru Max Clifford once said, “Martin Bashir is only interested in one person – himself.” But Mr Clifford has also said that what Bashir does, he does well.

To have persuaded such luminaries as Diana and Michael Jackson to speak inevitably sparked jealousy from fellow journalists who would have given their right arms to do the same. But regardless of whether he manipulated a princess adept at using the media herself – and a pop star the authorities are attempting to prosecute for child abuse – these stories make for riveting TV.

The executives at ABC, if they even considered the questions raised about his tactics, have given him the benefit of any doubt. And Bashir will know that success is prized more highly by Americans than by his own countrymen.


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