Gaby Hinsliff: The Deplorable Huw Edwards Feeding Frenzy Has Been Unfortunate, Yet It May Enhance the BBC


nce the frenzy of activity subsides, we are invariably left with the aftermath. Families torn apart, lives ruined, and a lingering sense of shame engulfing those who were caught up in the moment.

The poorly kept secret of the week is finally out, not that it matters much. We now all know that the anonymous BBC presenter accused by the Sun of purchasing sexually explicit images is none other than Huw Edwards, the corporation’s esteemed anchor. He is the reassuring face and voice for every significant state occasion, from election night to the passing of a monarch.

Shortly after the police confirmed that there was no evidence of any illegal activity, casting serious doubt on how the story came to be published, Edwards’s wife, Vicky Flind, made the brave decision to disclose his identity. She revealed that he was hospitalized due to a severe relapse of the mental health issues he had previously battled, and appealed for the harassment to cease. The couple has five adult children, and one can only imagine the distress they are experiencing. Similarly, broadcasters who were wrongly entangled in the reckless speculation on social media following the Sun’s initial, anonymous report must also be suffering.

However, there is another vulnerable family involved. They claim to have approached the paper in a desperate attempt to prevent their 20-year-old child from funding a drug habit by selling explicit images online. Allegedly, they had already tried and failed to raise the alarm at the BBC. The young person involved disputes this account. Regardless of who is telling the truth, it is clear that this sad and sensitive family situation is not best resolved by pitting everyone against each other in a battle between the right-wing press and the BBC. Once again, the broken pieces lead directly to my own industry’s doorstep. Ironically, those now demanding that Edwards be left alone will find that the story doesn’t end there.

At least three current and former BBC employees have come forward, claiming to have received inappropriate private messages from Edwards that made them uncomfortable but felt unable to report. For instance, Newsnight’s Victoria Derbyshire received a comment about her appearance that sent a “cold shudder” down her spine. Another person who had never met Edwards received a late-night message with kisses. This suggests a problematic newsroom culture where junior employees were afraid to speak up due to fear of damaging their careers. It goes beyond this individual case, and while there may not have been a crime committed, it doesn’t mean that there are no victims within the BBC. How many lives had to be shattered to reach this point?

The Sun bears immediate responsibility and must answer pressing questions. After backpedaling fervently, the paper now claims that it never accused Edwards of criminality, despite the initial allegations of payment for sexual images involving a 17-year-old, which could constitute a criminal offense. However, how were readers supposed to interpret headlines suggesting that he could face years in prison? Once the Metropolitan Police dismissed that idea, it became evident that this was more of a clumsy misstep in the realm of contemporary dating app culture, where it’s unclear who, if anyone, was exploiting whom. It is embarrassing, but hardly damning.

The new culture secretary, Lucy Frazer, should expect challenging inquiries about the regulation of both traditional media outlets and social media platforms, which failed to prevent their users from recklessly defaming various public figures once the story broke. However, given the proximity to a general election, it is doubtful that meaningful action will be taken.

Following that, it is only fitting for the Conservative party deputy chairman, Lee Anderson, to apologize. He recently labeled the BBC a “safe haven for perverts” just days after his own colleague, Chris Pincher, was formally recommended for suspension due to groping allegations. Since 2019, two former Tory MPs have been convicted of sexual assault, while another is currently under investigation for rape. Those who live in glass houses should examine their own faults before attacking others. That is precisely why the BBC dedicated so much airtime to investigating itself this week, which can be maddening to witness when one expects coverage of the Nato summit or Boris Johnson’s failure to provide requested evidence for the Covid-19 inquiry.

Some may perceive the BBC as naive, prone to falling into traps laid by its adversaries. However, should we really criticize them for not orchestrating a proper cover-up? The BBC cannot credibly address failings in any other area if it is unwilling to acknowledge its own. The caveat, of course, is that the corporation must clearly communicate expectations to its staff if they are to endure this level of public scrutiny.

In theory, the private lives of onscreen personalities should not matter as long as their actions are consensual and legal. It is not the 1980s when the BBC dismissed Frank Bough for alleged drug use and involvement with prostitutes. Nowadays, a chaotic personal life, extramarital affairs, or even public figures coming out, as Phillip Schofield did in 2020, should not be automatic deal-breakers. However, new ethical transgressions have replaced the old, with abuse of power being the most significant. Initiating personal contact with young women aspiring to enter the industry, for example, raises serious concerns. The bombastic workplace demeanor that may have been accepted as normal years ago is now recognized as bullying. Senior individuals who have climbed the ladder in a different era must comprehend that the rules have changed.

This has been a challenging week for those who value an impartial national broadcaster, and particularly for the BBC itself. It is tough to be held to higher standards than others, and even more distressing to witness the human toll it can take. However, the BBC can emerge from this experience stronger if it embraces transparency. A news organization that cannot confront the truth does not have a future.

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