BBC presenter scandal: What we know and what questions remain unanswered?

11 July 2023, 10:38

Under the lens: The scandal over a top BBC presenter has deepened
Under the lens: The scandal over a top BBC presenter has deepened. Picture: Alamy

By Asher McShane

Questions remain after the BBC suspended a male presenter following claims he paid a teenager for sexually explicit pictures.

But what do we know so far and what are the unanswered questions surrounding this scandal?

1) Identities of parties are not known

The mother of the young person originally told The Sun she saw a picture of the presenter on her child's phone in which he was "sitting on a sofa in his house in his underwear" and she said she was told it was "a picture from some kind of video call".

The family were said to have complained to the BBC on May 19, but allegedly became frustrated that the star remained on air.

BBC News said it does not know the identity of the young person and has not spoken to them directly, but a letter denying the claims on behalf of the young person was sent to the broadcaster on Monday by a multinational law firm.

The identity of the BBC presenter has not been reported.

Read more: MPs threaten to name presenter at centre of BBC scandal as parents hit back after youngster 'rubbishes' claims

Read more: Met police 'assessing' information but not investigating after meeting BBC bosses over presenter explicit photo claims

2) Why can't anyone be named?

Questions have been asked why the name of the BBC star has not been published.

Media law experts have explained there was a big change to the way the media approached reporting after Sir Cliff Richard won a privacy case against the BBC over its coverage of a 2014 South Yorkshire Police raid on his home in Sunningdale, Berkshire, after he was falsely accused of historical sex offences.

This was further entrenched when the Supreme Court, the UK's highest court, ruled that a person being investigated for a crime generally has "a reasonable expectation of privacy".

The landmark Supreme Court judgment related to a breach of privacy claim by a US citizen known only as ZXC, who was the chief executive of a regional division of a company, referred to as X Ltd.

In the first case on the issue considered by the court last year, five justices dismissed an appeal brought by financial organisation Bloomberg over the publication of information about a person under investigation by a legal enforcement body prior to charge.

Over the years, several cases including that of ZXC and Sir Cliff have meant it has become much more difficult for the media to name people before they are charged with a criminal offence for fear of defamation and breaching privacy laws.

Similarly, BBC culture and media editor Katie Razzall has said the story is a "series of claims and counter claims" which have yet to be verified, which deters publishers from identifying the BBC presenter.

She said: "There are these discrepancies and I should point out we don't have access to the full facts. We have seen little, apart from the letter from the lawyer representing the young person involved to the BBC yesterday evening.

"We haven't seen any of The Sun's evidence, any of the bank statements the family say they have and that they have shown the newspaper. As it stands we haven't been able to verify any of this."

3) Could the BBC presenter be named in Parliament?

Parliamentary privilege grants certain legal immunities for Members of both Houses to allow them to perform their duties without interference from outside of the House, the UK Parliament website says.

Members of Parliament could use their parliamentary privilege to unmask the suspended and unnamed BBC presenter without risk of defamation.

MPs have previously named stars protected by the courts, including former Topshop owner Sir Philip Green who was named by former Cabinet minister Lord Hain despite an injunction preventing the Daily Telegraph from identifying the businessman in relation to allegations against him.

Similarly, in 2011 Liberal Democrat MP John Hemming told Parliament that footballer Ryan Giggs had obtained an injunction regarding an allegation.

4) What has the BBC said so far?

The BBC said it treats any allegations "very seriously" and it has "processes in place to proactively deal with them".

On Sunday, the BBC confirmed in a statement that it had suspended a male presenter from all duties and contacted the Metropolitan Police over the allegations.

The statement said: "The BBC first became aware of a complaint in May. New allegations were put to us on Thursday of a different nature and in addition to our own inquiries we have also been in touch with external authorities, in line with our protocols.

"We can also confirm a male member of staff has been suspended.

"We expect to be in a position to provide a further update in the coming days as the process continues. The BBC board will continue to be kept up to date."

BBC director-general Tim Davie also said he is "wholly condemning the unsubstantiated rumours being made on the internet about some of our presenting talent" after several BBC presenters were forced to state publicly they were not the individual in question amid heavy speculation about the identity on social media.

In a note sent to staff, Mr Davie said the corporation takes "all such allegations incredibly seriously".

5) What is next for the BBC?

Mr Davie is due to face the media on Tuesday for a scheduled briefing following the release of the corporation's annual report, although the controversy will dominate the agenda.

The report, planned before the allegations came out, is an assessment of the BBC's performance over the last 12 months.

It typically reveals the pay remuneration of the corporation's biggest earners, with Mr Davie also expected to answer questions about stars' pay packets.