January 27, 2003 10:00 AM

Following last week’s news that NBC’s newsmagazine “Dateline” will examine the changing face of Michael Jackson, the musician appears to have launched a counteroffensive to, well, save face.

The Guardian newspaper in England reports that Jackson, 44, has given unprecedented access for a warts-and-all documentary to be hosted by British TV interviewer Martin Bashir, 39, the journalist to whom Princess Diana spilled the beans for a jaw-dropping 1995 on-camera session.

The interview with Jackson, which will be shown on Britain’s ITV1, will air Feb. 3.

“After Osama bin Laden and the Queen, Jacko is the interview that everyone wants,” commented the Guardian, which went on to report that Bashir’s camera crew trailed Jackson for eight months.

Ostensibly that would also include last November, when Jackson dangled his infant son, Prince Michael II, from a fourth-floor hotel balcony in Germany for the benefit of fans in the street. Jackson later apologized for his behavior.

“The film, say those who have seen it, is extraordinary. It lasts for an hour and 50 minutes, and there is no subject that is off limits,” says the Guardian. “From the allegations of child abuse to the debate over his skin color, Jackson addresses all the questions that anyone would expect to ask.”

As for the NBC entry, to be called “Michael Jackson Unmasked,” the network describes it as “the inside story as told by some of the people who knew him best.” The piece will air on Feb. 17.

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