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July 11, 2023updated 12 Jul 2023 9:12am

Sun versus BBC: Only one can survive undamaged from presenter ‘sex scandal’

The story is a war between two leading UK news organisations.

By Dominic Ponsford

Allegations of a sex scandal involving a high-profile BBC presenter have escalated into a war between two of the UK’s leading news publishers.

This episode can now only result with either News UK-owned The Sun or the BBC having their credibility severely diminished.

The Sun reported on Saturday that an unnamed high-profile BBC presenter had paid a young person for sexually explicit images over a period of three years from the age of 17 onwards.

The Sun said its story was based on sworn affadavits from the young person’s parents and it said that the parents’ initial complaint made to the BBC more than a month ago had been ignored. The parents say the money paid to their child, some £35,000, has been used to fuel a crack cocaine habit.

The BBC last night responded to the story by publishing excerpts from a legal letter sent by a lawyer for the young person themselves.

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The lawyer wrote: “For the avoidance of doubt, nothing inappropriate or unlawful has taken place between our client and the BBC personality and the allegations reported in the Sun newspaper are rubbish.

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“Nobody from the Sun newspaper appears to have made any attempt to contact our client prior to the publication of the allegations on Friday 6 July.”

The lawyer said the young person also contacted The Sun via Whatsapp on Friday night, the eve of publication, to deny the claims.

The Sun today doubled down on its position with a front page story headlined: “Parents: BBC lied”.

The Sun reports that the young person’s stepfather told the BBC in detail about the allegations in May, and that the BBC’s assertion that Saturday’s Sun story involved new allegations (which led to the presenter’s suspension) was a lie.

In a leader column today headlined: “BBC in dock”, The Sun stood by its reporting of the affair and said: “The BBC has massive questions to answer over its failure to act immediately over the scandal involving one of its top stars – and why it kept the presenter on air.”

The Daily Mail, meanwhile, reports that when it asked 291 people around the UK to name the BBC presenter involved in The Sun story, 49 were able to name the individual who it says is at the centre of the allegations (one in six). It said a further 21 named a presenter who is not involved in the affair.

All mainstream news publishers have thus far avoided naming the presenter concerned, mainly because of the defamation risk. Only The Sun has seen any evidence and any publisher would have to be confident they could prove the deeply damaging allegations in court before they could risk running them.

The Sun is the UK commercial brand with the largest reach and an estimated monthly audience of 31.1 million.

It has now effectively staked its reputation on the parents’ testimony being true. If the story turns out to be “rubbish” as the young person’s lawyer claims, then questions will be asked about why The Sun ran the story at all. It would be a seismic blow to the paper’s reputation.

The Sun story has already prompted a flurry of legal actions brought by BBC presenters who say they have been libelled by speculative posts from social media users.

Similarly, if The Sun story turns out to be substantially true, the BBC – the biggest news brand in the UK, and biggest English-speaking news service in the world – will face a major crisis. It will have to explain why the initial complaint was not acted upon and why it published a story last night effectively dismissing The Sun’s claims.

Update 12/7/23: In a surprising twist the BBC has published new allegations that the presenter in question was said to have been in contact with a person in their early 20s via a dating app and then sent them abusive messages. BBC journalists contacted the presenter in question and these new developments led last night’s 10pm news bulletin.

Meanwhile, The Sun today has new revelations of a lockdown-breaking meet up in February 2021 between the presenter and a 23-year-old.

These latest developments suggest the journalism of The Sun and BBC could both emerge strongly from this affair. Though with allegations mounting, the BBC will still have much to answer for at a corporate level and the case against the presenter themselves is beginning to look damning.

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Select and enter your email address Weekly insight into the big strategic issues affecting the future of the news industry. Essential reading for media leaders every Thursday. Your morning brew of news about the world of news from Press Gazette and elsewhere in the media. Sent at around 10am UK time. Our weekly does of strategic insight about the future of news media aimed at US readers. A fortnightly update from the front-line of news and advertising. Aimed at marketers and those involved in the advertising industry.
  • Business owner/co-owner
  • CEO
  • COO
  • CFO
  • CTO
  • Chairperson
  • Non-Exec Director
  • Other C-Suite
  • Managing Director
  • President/Partner
  • Senior Executive/SVP or Corporate VP or equivalent
  • Director or equivalent
  • Group or Senior Manager
  • Head of Department/Function
  • Manager
  • Non-manager
  • Retired
  • Other
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
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