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The BBC presenter scandal – and the cracks in The Sun’s story

There are so many question marks about The Sun’s journalism that it risks ending up making them look far worse than the presenter at the centre of the explicit images allegations, whose private life is their own affair if no laws have been broken

Sean O'Grady
Tuesday 11 July 2023 13:41 BST
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Ministers say they will not use parliamentary privilege to name suspended BBC presenter

Probably the best motto for any journalist is: “There are two sides to every story”. Not only does holding to this essential truth assist you in making sure you are fair and accurate in what you publish, and not needlessly destroying lives, but it crucially protects you from making blunders. So it may prove with The Sun’s mystery BBC presenter story.

With some success, and some justification, The Sun piled the questions on the BBC. What did it know and when? Why weren’t allegations followed up? Why wasn’t action taken? And now, of course, why won’t the BBC name the presenter supposedly involved?

That last question applies no less forcefully to Rupert Murdoch’s tabloid flagship. Why, indeed, has The Sun not named the male star? Surely, they argued, this is a matter of the public interest?

The answer to why the presenter hasn’t been named by anyone, aside from individuals guessing (often wrongly) on social media, is that it’s unlawful to do so. The Sun must know the identity of the presenter at the heart of the scandal, but has chosen not to reveal it.

This begs the question: why. Does their story stack up?

The newspaper stood by it in a statement. “We have reported a story about two very concerned parents who made a complaint to the BBC about the behaviour of a presenter and the welfare of their child,” The Sun said. “Their complaint was not acted upon by the BBC. We have seen evidence that supports their concerns. It’s now for the BBC to properly investigate.”

Yet their lawyers have clearly advised them not to identify the star. Perhaps they’ve remembered the lesson of the false VIP child abuse allegations by “Nick”, when the BBC filmed Cliff Richards’ home being searched by police in 2014.

There’s a reasonable right to privacy under the law. The press cannot have it both ways – naming innocent people when it suits them and then criticising others when they get it wrong and smear somebody.

Which brings us to the questions that The Sun must answer now that their story has been dented by the young person’s apparent rubbishing of their journalism. These include:

  • Why did The Sun not in the first instance go to the young person, which led to the statement issued by their lawyers on their behalf, calling the whole thing “rubbish”? A relevant part of the story, one would think. The newspaper only now prints: “A lawyer for the youngster says nothing unlawful or inappropriate happened.”
  • Why, more generally, has the young person not been quoted until today by The Sun? As the alleged victim – and now an adult – surely their take on what happened is crucial? Why rely only on their parent(s)?
  • What (if any) efforts were made to put the accusations to the presenter directly? It seems to be a private matter and nothing to do with the BBC or its premises. The truth is, we don’t yet know what may or may not have occurred with these two people. But we do know that key denials by the young person were either marginalised or left out. It is difficult to see any justification for this absence.
  • If some criminal act was committed, when did The Sun – or members of the family – tell the police? What did the police say?
  • What steps did The Sun take to verify the age of the young person when any offences allegedly took place? How is The Sun certain they were 17?

And so on. The young person is almost voiceless in this Sun story, unable to say whether they’re an addict as claimed, or even what happened – and why. It’s bizarre – because they’re now 20, we’re told, and a responsible adult. It’s certainly extremely odd that their version of events doesn’t fit in with The Sun’s narrative.

There are so many question marks in The Sun’s journalism that if the story collapses, it may end up making them look far worse than the presenter, whose private life may well be their own affair. The Sun has chosen to put the onus on the BBC to portray it as failing in its duty and protecting one of its unsavoury own. Yet it’s no more the BBC’s role to monitor the private activities of its staff, than it is Rupert Murdoch’s to spy on his reporters. It is at least possible that Murdoch’s well-known loathing of the BBC as a media and commercial rival is a factor. The ironies hardly need highlighting.

As things stand, we have two families being torn asunder and lives destroyed – and the BBC being trashed. Only the full truth will show if this was a witch hunt or a story of legitimate public interest.

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