Yet again, BBC's presenter scandal exposes its flat feet

Yet again, BBC’s presenter scandal exposes its flat feet

A pause for due process over the BBC presenter scandal is needed, but the Corporation can rightly be blamed for its slow response to allegations.

It looks as if the guessing game about the identity of the top TV presenter accused of paying £35,000 for indecent images of a young man he knew will go on and on.

This is strange because most newsrooms and large numbers of people in the media are pretty sure they know who it is. As one former BBC journalist noted, the person involved is probably the last person you would expect.

Yesterday’s comments by BBC director-general Tim Davie following the publication of the Corporation’s annual report suggests that it could be weeks before anything like a resolution to the latest scandal to hit the BBC is achieved.

The BBC has been asked by the police to pause its inquiries while the police investigate to see whether any crime has been committed. It is claimed that some of the activity involving the top BBC presenter happened when the young man involved was 17. If true, transmission of indecent pictures of someone under the age of 18 would be a criminal offence.

Pause for due process needed

In many ways, it would have been best if the presenter involved were to identify himself to stop the online guessing game that has wrongly implicated a number of his equally famous colleagues.

As this has not happened, then it is right that there should be a pause for due process to occur and for all of us, present company included, to stop speculating not just about the identity of the person involved but why on earth he did such a thing, if he did.

This is doubly so because of Monday’s statement, via a lawyer, from the young man involved. The key part of the statement, which leaves a lot of questions unanswered, said: “For the avoidance of doubt nothing inappropriate or unlawful has taken place between our client and the BBC personality and the allegations in The Sun newspaper are rubbish.”

This statement is in direct rebuttal of the affidavit signed by the young man’s mother in her comments to The Sun.

If the police decide there is no evidence that a criminal offence might have been committed, the BBC will face an even trickier dilemma. The Corporation may then have to adjudicate in an almost judicial way between the conflicting claims of the young man and the top presenter against the allegations of his mother.

Whatever the outcome, the life of the household name presenter will never be the same again, even if he were to be cleared. It is impossible to see the presenter ever being involved in television news again although, if he were to be cleared, The Sun could face an almighty libel action.

The person who comes out worst in all of this (other than the main protagonist) is Lee Anderson, deputy chairman of the Conservative Party, who described the BBC as a ”safe haven for perverts”, quite forgetting the number of Tory MPs already who are under investigation for, or have already admitted to, sexual offences.

Anderson’s comments were branded as “moronic” by former BBC journalists on Twitter.

Delayed response to scandal

Away from the immediate heat of battle, the BBC can be criticised, yet again, for it’s slow response to a scandal, any scandal.

The BBC was approached by the mother of the young man on 19 May and appears not to have taken it with any degree of seriousness despite the explosive nature of the allegations. Important matters still seem to take an eternity to filter slowly upwards through the BBC bureaucracy.

Director-general Davie only found out at the weekend, and the “household name presenter” continued to appear in the households of the land until his belated suspension on Sunday. Yesterday, the BBC said that the presenter had only been approached the day before The Sun published its article.

The delays come in worthy succession to the inept handling of Jimmy Savile and the reluctance to investigate the inappropriate appointment of Richard Sharp as chairman of the BBC.

Now the usual conspiracy theorists are out in force claiming that the release of the great presenter scandal was designed to deflect from other more important stories that would damage the Conservatives.

Unlikely that The Sun could possibly be so precise on the timing, although an anti-BBC story which results in calls for the winding up of the BBC or the replacement of its licence fee by subscription is like manna from heaven for Rupert Murdoch and The Sun.

Distracting effect

The bandwidth given to the story about the BBC presenter did have the effect of pushing a number of important stories far down the hierarchy of news.

One was the explosive fact that former Prime Minister Boris Johnson failed to meet a legal deadline of 4pm on Monday for handing over his mobile phone and its WhatsApp messages covering the crucial early months of the Covid pandemic.

The fact that the report of the Commons privileges committee condemning a number of Tory MPs for trying to undermine its Johnson Partygate investigation was accepted by Parliament received short shift.

You might also have missed an intriguing story in The Daily Telegraph revealing that more rich people have now abandoned the UK for the countries of the European Union, taking their wealth and investments with them, than the numbers of rich Russians fleeing the land of Putin.

Relentless Schofield coverage is a distraction

It may have been a coincidence of timing (or not) that the Mail on Sunday returned to a familiar refrain on Sunday claiming that Ministers are plotting to cut the value of the BBC licence fee in real terms to help ease the cost-of-living crisis they did so much to intensify.

This would be in breach of the Johnson-Dorries agreement that froze the licence fee at £159 until April 2024, after which it is due to rise in line with inflation to the end of the current licence period.

To renege on a formal Government agreement on which the BBC must have based its medium-term plans costing hundreds, if not several thousands of jobs, would be a real scandal.

For the BBC it never rains but it pours.

Meanwhile the longer the suspended presenter remains off screen leaving a large and increasingly obvious gap, the more obvious his identity will become and we will know — if he has not voluntary done the job itself — the result of this rather unedifying national guessing game.

Raymond Snoddy is a media consultant, national newspaper columnist and former presenter of NewsWatch on BBC News. He writes for The Media Leader on Wednesdays — read his column here.

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