In the midst of new revelations about prominent figures in the media, the Sun’s shocking disclosure is still muddying the waters of the spreading of media information
If you were anywhere in the UK in July of this year, chances are that you’re aware of the much-publicised Huw Edwards scandal. The initial story in The Sun, alleging that a top BBC presenter had paid a seventeen-year old for explicit images, potentially a criminal offence if true, was followed by a surprise refutation of the claim by the young person in question. The eventual reveal of broadcasting stalwart Huw Edwards as the presenter at the centre of the affair cemented each new development in the case as, like the most lurid of reality television, impossible to miss.
The scandal was inescapable. From the moment the headline dropped, quicker than you could say Kelvin MacKenzie, we were off to the races. That, though, was no surprise; the story had everything. It starred a celebrity, a household name at the centre of British life, whose stolidness and rectitude was almost assumed. It had mystery, as a nation of amateur sleuths waited in rapt attention for each new clue to the anonymous pervert’s identity, like Hercule Poirot employing all his powers of deductive reasoning to sneak into a burlesque house. Most crucially, the story had sex. And, as The Sun knows very well, given that it featured topless photographs of often very young models until as late as 2015, sex sells.
By now, though, Edwards is old news. Wily, ink-spotted scavengers have had their fill of his story’s carcass. Inevitably, as is their nature, they will return. Edwards’ inevitable reemergence into public life, the impending end to an internal investigation into his conduct, not to mention a potential TalkTV interview with the parents of the alleged victim (sure to be a worthy successor to David Frost’s tete-a-tete with Nixon), will see to that.
In the meantime, however, while the world is quieter and the hot, lurid summer gives way to autumn’s bitter clarity, it seems appropriate to reexamine the Edwards scandal, and what it says of the media juggernauts who spawned it.
Given the Met Police’s admission that, on the evidence, no criminality had occurred, it is unsurprising that many are doubtful of The Sun’s insistence that their story, which brought deeply private details into the public arena, was of public interest and, thus, deserved to be published. To many, the tabloid had once again done irrevocable damage to an innocent man’s reputation through its careless reporting of vastly overblown indiscretions. However, The Sun did not act alone; the country’s entire media apparatus served as accomplices. As Victoria Newton, editor to the paper, pointed out, even the BBC itself participated.
It would be naïve, though, to expect a major broadcaster to ignore the most popular news item in the country. Of his employer, the former BBC executive Mark Damazer once said: “You should try to go your own way, but you can’t completely ignore the pool in which you are swimming.”
More concerning perhaps is the BBC’s own handling of the allegations, which were brought to its attention months beforehand and were roundly ignored, not even reaching more senior figures in the company, including the director general, until it was too late.
This level of disorganisation, while not entirely shocking, is unacceptable, particularly within a corporation marred by its employment, and alleged protection, of Jimmy Saville.
While it may seem unfair that the BBC must hold itself to such lofty standards, especially compared to its peers, it is nevertheless wholly imperative. Boris Johnson’s sister once claimed that Rupert Murdoch had implored her brother, the former Prime Minister, to get rid of the broadcaster. The BBC’s internal procedures and external responses therefore must be trustworthy and robust like no others, not only because of the corporation’s role as an unbiased, publicly funded broadcaster, but also because the tabloid cabal, be it those which snap at its heels or those which could even be said to eclipse it, would all like nothing better than to see its execution.