There have been urgent NATO meetings about the war in Ukraine, raging floods from India to Vermont, and a record heat wave across America. But this week the BBC ended up broadcasting wall-to-wall coverage of a different story: itself.

The confirmation that Huw Edwards, a prominent BBC anchor, was the unnamed person at the heart of allegations of sexual misconduct ended days of breathless speculation that had consumed Britain’s public broadcasting. Yet it left a lingering sense of unease about the role of the British news media – and its even more intrusive cousin, social media – in the unmasking of a public figure.

Mr Edwards, his wife said on Wednesday, was hospitalized with a mental breakdown exacerbated by a tabloid report that he had paid tens of thousands of pounds to a teenager for sexually explicit images. The police said they found no evidence that Mr Edwards had committed a crime, raising questions about why the BBC devoted hours of airtime, or the paper acres of newsprint, to what turned out to be the private life of one of the broadcaster’s stars.

The allegations were salacious, to be sure – catnip for the British press – and the BBC tried to show journalistic integrity by not running away from embarrassing news about a member of its own staff.

But the bigger reason for the saturation coverage, media outlets, editors and analysts said, is that Mr. Edwards is no ordinary news anchor, and the BBC is no ordinary media outlet.

“It’s always at the center of the storm because of its power,” said Howard Stringer, a former CBS chairman who served on the BBC’s board. “The BBC, like the monarchy, is a symbol of continuity in a polarized society.”

Mr. Edwards, 61, occupied a high perch in this singular institution, not unlike that of Walter Cronkite, the CBS anchor who was once the face and voice of history for millions of Americans. Gray-haired and serious, he announced the death of Queen Elizabeth 2 last September and then led the BBC’s coverage of the coronation of King Charles III in May. Anchor on the flagship program ‘BBC News at Ten’, he is the broadcaster’s go-to journalist for history-in-the-making.

“You can’t think of anyone else in British journalism at the moment who has captured that sense of stability,” said Mr Stringer, who, like Mr Edwards, was born in Wales.

The BBC’s unique status, he said, and the fact that it is funded by a compulsory license fee imposed on most British households, makes it a ripe target for politicians and competitors. Even before this episode, the BBC was reeling from crisis to crisis over the behavior and statements of some of its most prominent figures. It has often found itself in the political crosshairs, targeted by both the right and the left.

The drama involving Mr Edwards began last Friday when The Sun, a tabloid owned by Rupert Murdoch, reported that an unnamed BBC employee had paid the teenager more than £35,000, or almost $45,000, for explicit photos over several years. this started when the person was 17 years old.

Under UK law, the age of consent is 16, but it is a crime to take, make, share or possess indecent images of anyone under 18.

After initially saying it was looking into whether a crime had been committed, London police said on Wednesday there was no evidence to suggest Mr Edwards had done so. The Sun responded by saying it would not publish any further allegations. Instead, it said it would hand over its file on Mr Edwards to the BBC, which is conducting its own investigation into the matter.

But critics said the damage was done. While the paper did not name Mr. Edwards, his identity quickly became an open secret in cyberspace. And while The Sun’s editors say they never charged the employee with a crime, the paper published a story under the headline, “Another BBC star who ‘paid child for sex images’ could be charged by police and face years in prison, expert says..”

In addition to the allegations about the sexually explicit images, the BBC itself reported on Tuesday that a second young person had come forward claiming that the male staff member – now identified as Mr Edwards – had sent angry and violent messages to the person. dating app

Mr Edwards’ wife, Vicky Flind, said he would deal with the situation when he regained his health. But given the sordid nature of the allegations, it is hard to imagine a scenario in which he returns to an anchor chair at the BBC, where he started as a news reporter in 1984. In a statement on behalf of Mr Edwards, his wife said he would receive hospice care ” for the foreseeable future.”

“What we had was a kangaroo court that destroyed someone who didn’t commit a crime,” said Claire Enders, a London-based media analyst. “The BBC has been drawn into the food frenzy. It has been drawn into a trap set by The Sun.”

The BBC, of ​​course, has complicated its own situation. The broadcaster waited seven weeks after the teenager’s mother lodged her initial complaint with its audience services department to confront Mr Edwards about the allegations or escalate the matter to the highest levels of the BBC.

It was only after The Sun contacted the broadcaster on July 6 with further allegations from the mother that the BBC’s director-general, Tim Davie, became involved. Mr Davie later admitted the episode showed the need to re-examine how complaints are “red flagged across the organisation”. In this case, he noted that the first complaint, although serious, “did not include an allegation of criminality.”

After the BBC acted, critics said it had gone overboard in its coverage. The allegations led every newscast and were played at the top of the BBC website, which also hosted a thorough live briefing. Correspondents repeatedly referred to the unnamed “presenter”, although his identity was so well known in the newsroom that at one point, a host mistakenly said “Huw” instead of “who”.

The story overshadowed the NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, where Prime Minister Rishi Sunak gave a speech about Britain’s military support for Ukraine. Mr Sunak received more coverage for his comment, en route to Vilnius, when he called the reports about the performer’s payments “shocking and worrying.”

“The BBC has lost its sense of proportion,” said Alan Rusbridger, former editor of The Guardian. “It gets into this mindset where it feels like it has to make up for sluggishness in handling problems by showing a clean pair of hands to cover them.”

The pressure is particularly intense because of the legacy of Jimmy Savile, the comedian and BBC host who was exposed as a serial sexual predator after his death in 2011. The BBC has been accused of covering up allegations against Mr Savile; the fallout from that scandal cost one of Mr.’s predecessors. Davie his task.

However, history also played a role in the BBC’s refusal to name Mr Edwards. In 2018, British singer Cliff Richard won a privacy case against the broadcaster after it aired footage of a police raid on his home after he faced sexual assault charges. Mr. Richards was never arrested or charged, and the BBC ended up paying him 2 million pounds ($2.6 million).

At the heart of every such story is the question of how to balance an individual’s right to privacy with the public’s interest in knowing the truth. In the age of Twitter and Facebook, however, this has become an increasingly obscure exercise. Mr Edwards’ name was trending on Twitter within a day of The Sun’s report.

“This is a particularly problematic case,” Mr Rusbridger said. “He’s a very well-known journalist, and he works in the gossip industry, so it was inevitable that his name would come up. You drop enough hints and let Twitter do the rest.”

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