Where the BBC went wrong again with its handling of the Huw Edwards story - David Behrens
Three years ago the BBC reported that thousands of teenagers were making money on it from selling their own nude photos and videos, often to subsidise addictions that had overtaken them. That, we now know, was only half the story.
It would break any parent’s heart to discover that their son or daughter had fallen prey to this kind of online prostitution. But to then learn that their “client” was a TV personality leading a double life of on-screen sanctimony and after hours deviance would be too much to bear.
Our sympathy belongs to them, not to a celebrity whose reaction, according to his friends, was not contrition or even embarrassment but anger at having been found out. There’s no doubt that Huw Edwards is ill; that much is self-evident. But his condition is at least being relieved by an immediate stay in hospital at a time when most people can’t even see a GP. The addictions of the young people he was paying will not be so readily treated.
There was much discussion – not least by the BBC itself – that since no law had apparently been broken, this was an affair that should have remained private. But what is legal is not necessarily moral, and at the heart of this story is the allegation that the country’s newsreader-in-chief and commentator at the King’s Coronation was spending what for most people would be a year’s salary on sex pictures of people young enough to be his grandchildren. That he might also have breached Covid regulations by meeting one of them in person while dispensing the nightly news about Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings removed any doubt that this was a matter squarely in the public interest.
Yet even he is not the main wrongdoer, for this is a Greek tragedy of his employer’s making. Not for the first time the BBC has been brought down by the cant and complacency that runs through it like a stick of rock. Trust in its propriety as a news organisation and an employer has been undermined, perhaps fatally.
It’s not just the indiscretions of one presenter that has brought this about; it is the hypocrisy of a management that has one set of standards for its own top people and quite another for everyone else.
This was never more apparent than on Monday when the director general, Tim Davie, said he would not name the presenter whose identity his staff already knew because individuals were “entitled to a reasonable expectation of privacy”. Sir Cliff Richard must have choked on his cornflakes when he read that.
It was nine years ago, you will recall, that the BBC hired a helicopter to fly above Cliff’s home and beam live pictures of South Yorkshire Police raiding it in an abortive operation that led to no arrest and no charges but smeared his reputation with false assumptions and innuendo. Where was his right to privacy?
There is then the issue of the Corporation’s uneven dispensation of its duty of care to staff and viewers. It was told about the allegations concerning Edwards seven weeks before his name seeped onto Twitter as inevitably as sewage into a river. And you’d have thought that after the exposure of its lackadaisical employment policies towards Jimmy Savile and others, it would fall over itself to investigate allegations of impropriety quickly and transparently. This week’s events proved that all it has done is bought itself a bigger brush to sweep embarrassing details under the carpet.
Had its HR people taken Edwards to one side, the whole thing could have been dealt with discreetly. Their failure to grasp the seriousness gave one victim’s parents little choice than to seek recourse elsewhere.
This BBC hypocrisy over whose affairs should or should not be bandied about in public had already been exposed last month in the case of someone it wanted to name as the subject of a sex assault investigation.
The judge’s ruling that it could not do so caused it to complain of “a lack of consistency in the approach to dealing with these matters”. A clear case of pot and kettle, m’lud.
As for Huw, there is no going back, There never is when the presenter becomes the story and not the storyteller.
Frank Bough and Angus Deayton discovered this long ago.
There is a final irony in that the day before he was named, Edwards was revealed to have been handed a £25,000 rise last year. That, I hope he realises, is a lot more than the doctors now treating him will get.