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July 18, 2023

BBC bosses: We’ve had to juggle ‘legitimate public interest’ with duty of care to Huw Edwards

The BBC's fact-finding investigation into Huw Edwards allegations could take weeks, a couple of months or more.

By PA Media

The acting chairwoman of the BBC has told peers there was “huge pressure” on the corporation to name Huw Edwards as the presenter caught up in a controversy.

Dame Elan Closs Stephens told a pre-arranged meeting of the Lords Communications and Digital Committee on Tuesday that she was “informed immediately” following allegations that a BBC presenter paid a young person for explicit images.

She said the corporation’s board met twice to discuss the controversy following The Sun‘s initial publication of the claims on its 8 July front page.

Speaking about about the board’s reaction, Dame Elan said: “We had a duty to act with some calm and rationality in the face of lack of rationality and lack of calm.

“There were an awful lot of questions that could not be answered.

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“There was a huge pressure to disclose the name of somebody to whom we had a duty of care, and duty of privacy, in addition to the family and young man that were concerned in this maelstrom.

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“So I was on the one hand seeking to establish the right of the board to oversee what was happening, but at the same time, I was trying my best to make for a calm and rational discussion of the issue before we all got carried away in what could have been very wrong directions.”

Review into complaints process to report ‘in autumn’

BBC director-general Tim Davie also updated the committee on the review he has ordered into the internal protocols and procedures on complaints at the corporation.

Davie also confirmed that the BBC has been in touch with the complainant and the corporation wants to be “engaged and appropriately listening and understanding their concerns”.

The family of the young person had originally complained to the BBC in May and the corporation said it tried to contact them twice.

In a letter to BBC News, the young person at the centre of the controversy later said via lawyers that nothing inappropriate or unlawful happened with the then unnamed presenter.

Davie also said he expects to report in the autumn or late autumn.

Dame Elan also told peers that Simon Cuerden, a forensic partner at Deloitte and senior independent director at the BBC, Sir Nick Serota, will be leading the broadcaster’s review into how complaints are assessed.

She added: “The terms of reference will be in front of the full board this coming Thursday, in two days’ time.

“They will be published in due course and the inquiry will get under way.”

Tim Davie: ‘Legitimate public interest’ vs duty of care and privacy concerns

Last week, in a statement to PA, Edwards was named by his wife, Vicky Flind, who said he was receiving in-patient hospital care and was suffering “serious mental health issues”.

Davie also told the committee: “This has been a difficult affair where we have tried to calmly and reasonably navigate some difficult concerns around the allegations themselves, duty of care, privacy and legitimate public interest.”

He also said the corporation’s fact-finding investigation into the allegations against Edwards could take “weeks or a couple of months or even longer” as he was not in “control of all the variables”.

BBC bosses talking about Huw Edwards
Tim Davie CBE, BBC director-general, Dame Elan Closs Stephens, acting chairwoman of the BBC (left) and Clare Sumner, director of policy at the BBC, giving evidence to the Communications and Digital Committee at the House of Lords on Tuesday 18 July 2023. Picture: House of Lords/PA Media

Davie added: “My main priority is to be fair and get all the information into that process and act judiciously.”

He also confirmed that high-profile staff members have in their contract a clause about not bringing the BBC into disrepute.

Concerns over power dynamics between presenters and others

Davie told peers that the due to the history of the media industry everyone should be “concerned” about the dynamics between presenters and people in power and others.

He added: “You need to ensure that you’re very, very clear on what your expectations are culturally, as well as the policy.”

Davie also said there is a “a safe place” where staff can go to raise concerns, which is the whistleblowing complaints process that is “external and confidential”.

He said: “We’ve got most people very confident in it, but we need to keep working on it. There’s still gaps in that and this is normal when you’re deploying these things.”

On Wednesday last week, the Metropolitan Police said no criminal offence has been committed by Edwards and The Sun said it has no plans to publish further allegations and will co-operate with the BBC’s internal investigation process.

BBC News had reported a second person claiming they felt threatened by messages they received from Edwards.

BBC Newsnight has also reported claims that one former and two current employees at the corporation claim they had received messages from the veteran broadcaster that made them feel uncomfortable.

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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
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  • Chairperson
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  • Other C-Suite
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  • Senior Executive/SVP or Corporate VP or equivalent
  • Director or equivalent
  • Group or Senior Manager
  • Head of Department/Function
  • Manager
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