BBC chief Tim Davie on Tuesday insisted on allowing a
high-profile presenter accused of paying a teenager for sexually explicit
images to remain anonymous, despite mounting calls for his identity to be
The accusations fuelled a fifth straight day of fevered front-page headlines in the British media, with the publicly funded BBC also leading its own news bulletins with the story. The broadcaster also reported Tuesday that another person in their 20s had received "threatening messages" from the same presenter via a dating site.
The BBC said it has seen the messages and confirmed that they came from a phone number belonging to the presenter. There has been a frenzy of speculation about the presenter's identity on social media, with the Daily Mail even reporting that "one in six" Britons knew who it was, according to its own snap poll.
But Davie said "processes and protocols" were in place when allegations were made and they had a duty of care towards all involved.
The corporation needed to handle them "with the utmost diligence", he added, refusing to comment on calls from some MPs to use parliamentary privilege to name the presenter in the House of Commons.
Parliamentary privilege allows legal immunity to lawmakers for statements made in the chamber.
The claims first emerged in an article published Friday in The Sun tabloid in which the alleged victim's family said the presenter had paid a total of £35,000 ($45,000) for the pictures.
The Sun, which backs the ruling Conservative party, said the exchanges between the presenter and the young person started three years ago when the teenager was 17. The saga took a twist on Monday evening, when the BBC said it had been sent a legal letter from the youngster, stating that the claims in The Sun were "rubbish" and they had asked them not to publish.
"Nothing inappropriate or unlawful has taken place between our client and the BBC personality," it added.
But on Tuesday The Sun doubled down on its story, quoting the mother of the youngster, who is now 20, as saying the money from the presenter was used to fuel a crack cocaine addiction.
The damaging headlines come after the broadcaster – whose brand is built on public trust – was rocked in recent years by scandals which saw some of their biggest names revealed as serial sex offenders.
"The BBC has a shameful record for ignoring complaints about its 'talent'. Its actions now must be entirely above board," The Sun said in an editorial.
Media industry publication Press Gazette called the claim and counter-claim "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," it added.
The age of consent in the UK is 16 but it is a criminal offence to make, distribute or possess indecent images of anyone under 18.
The revelations have shone a light on Britain's complex and increasingly strict privacy laws, which have made the media wary about revealing a person's identity before they are formally under investigation or arrest.
In 2018, the BBC itself was forced to pay substantial damages for breach of privacy to the singer Cliff Richard after it broadcast live footage of a 2014 police raid on his home.
Further adding to the stand-off are the slew of attacks on the BBC by members of the ruling Conservatives and their supporters since the divisive Brexit referendum in 2016.
The critics have accused it of pro-EU bias, with others in the UK's predominantly Tory-supporting right-wing press accusing it of having a "woke" agenda and criticising its funding model.
Davie, the corporation's director general, defended apparent delays in investigating the complaint, which came from a family member on May 18 – seven weeks before Davie was finally made aware of it.
Two attempts – by phone and email – were made to contact the complainant but there was no response. No additional efforts were made to contact them after June 6.
The BBC presenter was suspended on Sunday. Corporation bosses met police on Monday to discuss the matter but detectives have not opened a formal investigation.
Davie said the police had asked the BBC to pause its own investigations into the allegations "while the police scope future work".