View all newsletters
Sign up for our free email newsletters

Fighting for quality news media in the digital age.

  1. News
August 7, 2023

Former Times editor James Harding suggests Sun editor should resign

James Harding said Sun advertisers would "almost certainly" keep asking about the story.

By Bron Maher

Update, 7 August 2023: The Sun has declined to comment on reports in Private Eye that Huw Edwards may have first interacted with the “young person” with whom he is alleged to have traded sexual images for money when that person was already a legal adult.

The newspaper’s original report last month had said a “top BBC star” was “accused of giving the teen more than £35,000 since they were 17 in return for sordid images”.

The Sun’s first story did not explicitly make claims of criminality, although a subsequent article reported an expert’s comment that the then-anonymous presenter “could face criminal charges and years behind bars”.

After the Metropolitan Police announced a few days afterwards that they had found no indication of criminality in the case, The Sun said its story was about “two very concerned and frustrated parents who made a complaint to the BBC about the behaviour of a presenter and payments from him that fuelled the drug habit of a young person”, rather than criminality.

Private Eye reported at the end of July that that original complaint to the BBC, which the magazine had seen, “specified that Edwards had first met him when he was 18 and there was no mention of photographs being exchanged, or any contact at all, prior to this age”.

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.
Thank you

Thanks for subscribing.

Asked by Press Gazette to comment on this, a Sun spokesperson said: “We don’t have any further comment on the record for this story right now.”

Content from our partners
Publishing on the open web is broken, how generative AI could help fix it
Impress: Regulation, arbitration and complaints resolution
Papermule: Workflow automation for publishers

The paper also referred Press Gazette to its last statement on the matter, which it put out the day Edwards was named by his wife, and to editor Victoria Newton’s letter to Parliament’s Culture, Media and Sport Committee in which she said she stood by the reporting.

The Sun has previously declined to comment on specific questions about its reporting on the Edwards story, including the allegation the paper received a denial from the younger person before publication and why it was not included in copy.

[Read more: Sun editor responds to question over Huw Edwards reporting and Dan Wootton allegations]

Original story, 19 July 2023: Former editor of The Times James Harding has suggested the editor of The Sun, Victoria Newton, should resign over her paper’s coverage of allegations against Huw Edwards.

Harding, who was previously director of news and current affairs at the BBC and now serves as editor of Tortoise Media, also said advertisers will have concerns over the story.

The Sun has so far declined to answer specific questions about reporting on the original anonymised Edwards story, which stated that “a well-known presenter is accused of giving the teen more than £35,000 since they were 17 in return for sordid images“.

However, The Sun published a comment piece setting out the public interest which said that “a desperate couple approached us with firm evidence that he was paying large sums to a young person with a spiralling drug addiction — and that the star had been sent sexual pictures”.

Rounding on “pious media friends” of Edwards who have condemned The Sun’s reporting, the tabloid argued: “Many of these same people have crucified political opponents for lesser sins with no hint of illegality. Had this story been about a Tory Cabinet Minister, or a Brexit-backing presenter on a right-leaning TV channel, they would be screaming for his sacking.”

Sun reporter, Scarlet Howes, has also written a piece defending her original report, saying: “They were a panic-stricken ­couple beating down the doors of a succession of authorities in desperation, chronically fearing for their child’s life. With all options exhausted, the avid Sun readers turned to us.”

[Read more: Sun defends reporting as Huw Edwards named BBC presenter at centre of controversy]

James Harding: ‘If the BBC had done that, the person running BBC News would have to resign’

Harding made his comments on Tortoise’s The News Meeting podcast, in which the “slow news” outlet’s journalists simulate a morning news conference by pitching competing stories to lead the day.

He began Monday’s episode saying that, over the weekend: “I’ve been left with this one thumping, perhaps obvious thought – a hangover from last week’s wall-to-wall coverage of the BBC.

“And it’s this: that if Victoria Newton, the editor of The Sun, were running BBC News, she would have to resign.”

Harding listed a string of editorial decisions which, he said, would have required a resignation had they occurred at the BBC.

“If the BBC had published a report alleging that a prominent person had received sexually explicit pictures from a minor on the basis of a single source, without sight of the pictures, without proof that the person was underage.

“If the BBC had, on seven instances in that first report, referred to the person as a child, without contacting them, and then either failing or refusing to publish their denial.”

(The Sun story stated that “Sleazy messages are alleged to have started in 2020, when the youngster was 17” and repeatedly used the term “child” in the context of the individual’s relationship with their parents. The fact that police are not pursuing the matter has led to questions over what specifically occurred when the individual was still a minor.)

Harding said: “If the BBC had alleged that this ‘top star’ is accused of paying a child for sexual photos, and that that person could ‘face criminal charges and years behind bars’, only for two police forces to say they had no evidence of criminality.

“If the BBC had chosen not to name this ‘top star’, but in publishing, they knew that they could reasonably expect the person to be identified because the person would be pulled off-air.

“If the BBC had published the story without due consideration of defamation risk or reputational risk for, in effect, outing a man.

“And if the BBC had done all of this without going out on air to explain and defend their editorial decision, but instead simply stuck to the claim that it was publicising a tardy and inadequate complaints process.

“Well, if the BBC had done that, then the person running BBC News would have to resign.”

He added: “The questions for The Sun are just not going to go away. And they’re going to be asked by lawyers, by campaigners, by politicians, and almost certainly by advertisers.”

The Sun has never made reference to the gender of the 20-year-old.

Harding’s reference to reporting of “criminal charges” and “years behind bars” is a reference to a Sun story following up a Times report.

That story stated: “The former Chief Crown Prosecutor who led the prosecution in the Rochdale grooming gang cases, has told the Times the presenter could potentially be charged with sexual exploitation under the Sexual Offences Act 2003.”

And the Sun report noted that, “under the Protection of Children Act 1978, it is an offence to ‘make, distribute, possess or show any indecent images of anyone aged under 18′”.

Questions for The Sun

After The Sun published an article raising “Nine questions [the] BBC refused to answer” over the debacle, the tabloid has found its own reporting the subject of similar “unanswered questions” stories by The Guardian, ITV News, Sky News and the BBC itself.

Press Gazette last week sent the following questions to The Sun:

  • Did The Sun receive a response from the 20-year-old before publication, and if so why was it not included in the story?
  • South Wales Police said they determined in April that there was no evidence of criminality. Did the parents communicate this to The Sun? If so, why was it not included in the story?
  • Are the parents receiving payment from TalkTV for their story as has been reported elsewhere?
  • Why did the Sun not name Edwards in its original report given the public interest case which has subsequently been argued? Does that not trump privacy concerns?
  • The original Sun story was widely interpreted as an allegation of criminality, suggesting the exchange of images occurred over a period that began when the individual was 17. This suggestion of criminality was included in a Sun follow-up article. Should the original report have been clearer about whether or not the allegations were criminal in nature? And did The Sun establish how old the now-20-year-old was when the exchange of payments or sexual images began?

In response to these questions a spokesperson repeated an earlier statement, which said: “The allegations published by The Sun were always very serious. Further serious allegations have emerged in the past few days.

“It is right that the BBC’s Corporate Investigations Team continues to investigate these thoroughly and deals with them in the way that they think is appropriate.

“The Sun will cooperate with the BBC’s internal investigation process. We will provide the BBC team with a confidential and redacted dossier containing serious and wide-ranging allegations which we have received, including some from BBC personnel.

“The Sun has no plans to publish further allegations. 

“We must also re-emphasise that The Sun at no point in our original story alleged criminality and also took the decision neither to name Mr Edwards nor the young person involved in the allegations.

“Suggestions about possible criminality were first made at a later date by other media outlets, including the BBC. 

“From the outset, we have reported a story about two very concerned and frustrated parents who made a complaint to the BBC about the behaviour of a presenter and payments from him that fuelled the drug habit of a young person. 

“We reported that the parents had already been to the police who said that they couldn’t help. 

“The parents then made a complaint to the BBC which was not acted upon.

“It is now for the BBC to properly investigate.”

Asked on Wednesday to respond specifically to Harding’s comments, a spokesperson for The Sun pointed Press Gazette to its leader column from Friday 14 July, titled: “We have never doubted that our story on Huw Edwards was in the public interest.”

Topics in this article : , , ,

Email pged@pressgazette.co.uk to point out mistakes, provide story tips or send in a letter for publication on our "Letters Page" blog

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.
Thank you

Thanks for subscribing.

Websites in our network