Over the past couple of days, I have talked to many people about many things both local and national. One subject that has not crossed my lips or those of anyone that I have conversed with is the BBC and Martin Bashir. This is quite amazing given that it has taken such prominence in our national and social media.
I believe that what Bashir did was wrong and the BBC should have had checks and safeguards in place to ensure a fair treatment of anyone who is the subject of such intense scrutiny. All that, however, was 25 years ago. So much has changed since then and I really hope that the BBC has changed with the times and such a dark episode would not be repeated.
It’s quite clear that the programme did not change the nature of the marriage between Charles and Diana. 40%+ of marriages end in divorce, many within a few years and more when ‘the children have grown up’. There was clearly already marital infidelity and strains within a ‘stiff upper lip family’. No divorce that I have seen is righteousness on one side and darkness on the other. It is usually a partnership that is strained from both sides.
I suspect that the problems were, however, exacerbated by media exposure. Strip away the royal flum-dummery and at the heart of the situation is a Mum, Dad and two lads. They were a family in a position that relentlessly exposed them to the media and more difficult forces than most in which their family circumstances were discussed by people with nothing more than a desire to gossip over a cup of tea and a prurient interest.
Even people like me who are regularly exposed to a public scourging by the media (are you reading this Liam Thorp?!) are able to keep our private lives reasonably apart from our public persona.
There are two questions that I think need answering here. The first is just about the BBC. I still trust the BBC and so do people around the world and so do people in this Country. It is significant that at times of national celebration or sadness the BBC viewing figures are always far, far greater than the commercial networks. You could see that in the figure for Prince Phillip’s funeral.
The BBC question is, ‘have you learned and changed in the past 25 years?” The way we look after and support staff has hugely changed in those years but so also has the understanding of the need for scrutiny. It doesn’t matter so much with the printed media. If you buy the Daily Mail you know it’s likely to be a load of nonsense with a political bias and a Nelsonian blind eye. Television is much more potent. The moving pictures create a more powerful emotion and concern and leaves a much deeper impression. It is the job of all moving and sound media to remorselessly check their systems both in general and at each time a difficult circumstance which affects individuals gets aired.
This is not censorship. Decision makers in particular should be subject to high-level scrutiny. It’s something we choose to do. But Diana was not a decision maker. She was an individual stuck in difficult circumstances.
That leads to a second question for all of us. How do we support families and individuals stuck in loveless marriages and who are getting divorced? Women particularly suffer. The man is usually the ‘breadwinner’ as it is still women who often reduce their hours or give up their jobs to be the ‘homemaker’. That is great whilst the partnership is strong with the couple deciding for themselves who does what on a mutually supportive basis. However, it too often traps women even when the marriage is not only breaking down but where domestic violence, physical or mental, enters the picture.
The mental health of too many women and children suffer in a way that affects them for life. Often, they choose to flee with nothing in terms of finances or possessions just to escape. If they are lucky, they have a supportive family. Many are unlucky and have no support mechanisms except for what the state or charities can provide. Marital breakup, especially when there are grown up children, is a major cause of a range of severe mental problems which can lead to suicide.
So perhaps instead of indulging in tittle-tattle we all, and especially the Prime Minister, should think about the lessons that we should all learn from this royal romance which faded away. Perhaps this BBC mistake can enable a full and frank discussion about the ways in which would and should help Mr and Mrs Windsor rather than see them as Prince Charles and Lady Diana!