How Differences In Journalistic Standards Dictated The Huw Edwards Scandal

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BBC News app display on an iPhone

It is a sad fact of our modern era that it is not uncommon for a man in a position of power to be accused of a sexually explicit crime.  When news broke from The Sun that a high-profile BBC presenter has been paying someone ‘since they were 17’ in return for ‘sordid’ images, in many ways, it felt like a different spin on the story we have become all too used to hearing. 

The Sun’s First Error

The Sun’s initially scandalous narrative had all the ingredients of a typical tabloid story: drama, sexual intrigue, and plenty of loaded language. I believe this was The Sun’s first and most critical error: treating a very serious allegation as a piece of tabloid gossip. As the story began to develop, and the BBC got involved, this story would transcend the established narrative of a story like this and grow into a much more intricate platform that questioned the very nature of journalistic practice and the varying motivations behind reporting.  

The reason why the Huw Edwards story developed at such a frantic and contradictory pace is because of how the form in which it was first presented to the public. Seen first in The Sun, the public first became aware of the allegations in the form of a tabloid story. The Sun made sure to ramp up the drama in various ways, primarily by their framing of the alleged victim as a drug user who funded his habit via Edward’s payment, and quotes from the victim’s mother that read like an ITV drama: “I blame this BBC man for destroying my child’s life.” 

After this sensational beginning, the public’s attention was grabbed in a specific way that proved very hard to break. The sensationalism of the initial article not only successfully captivated its readers, but it also showed that The Sun’s motivations lay mainly in grabbing their reader’s attention with salaciousness, rather than presenting a case backed up by hard evidence.  

The BBC’s Response

I think that, following this, the BBC’s response was never going to be satisfying because they were being forced to respond in a way that contradicted the way in which many saw the story. The BBC were thrown into damage control mode, but their attempts to deal with the situation in a more delicate fashion only enlivened those who, by this point, interpreted this story as more of a sensational drama than an actual criminal allegation. This is through no fault of their own I must add, The Sun’s singular focus meant that the narrative had already been decided long before the BBC interjected. 

In today’s attention economy, especially with journalism, if something goes against what is deemed naturally more interesting in the public eye, there is no breaking through that barrier, no matter what is at stake. Journalism is about clicks and digestible headlines. The BBC’s lack of control of the spiral is less a statement of their inefficiency as it is of their inability to combat an already predestined story development.  

Growing Public Anger

As The Sun continued to double down on drama, and holes began to inevitably show in their initial reporting, confusion grew amongst the public. In cases like this, confusion leads to anger, and anger is the catalyst that turns a would-be delicate story into a full-blown media frenzy. The early details had long been forgotten, in place of the disparate story threads that barely held together anymore. Acting separately and with different motivations, The Sun and the BBC had managed to set the nation alight with questions, and there are some clear reasons why this happened. 

With The Sun’s position as a tabloid that deliberately situates itself as a paper that avoids the culturally perceived pretentiousness of other publications, sticking instead to lighter reporting, the paper used its position to frame the BBC as a sort of upper-class enemy of the people, a public-funded institution that was protecting a monster. This framing device weaponised the people’s confusion and lobbed a class warfare grenade into the public consciousness.  

The BBC became the enemy in a story that should have been without any sort of villain. They were the people that were taking your taxes whilst simultaneously acting against public interest. The Sun wanted to frame itself as the hero, and whilst this is nonsense, once the story unravelled and Edwards was named, the whole episode felt more like a fever dream than a triumph for either side.  

Conclusion

Having said all of this, I do not necessarily praise the BBC for how it handled the aftermath. Edwards holds a specific role in the zeitgeist, someone that the public implicitly trusts to tell us what is happening in the world, with his recent position reporting the Queen’s death only cementing this image. Edwards is respected, and this shapes the story into something that exposes the very nature of journalistic practice today. The BBC sheltering Edwards in the aftermath was a wise and damning move. 

On one hand, it upholds the seriousness of the story that The Sun by this point had disregarded, and highlights the flaws in The Sun’s reporting, confirming their reputation as a publication that should not be treated seriously. However, the BBC’s handling should also be seen as a case of poor damage control, and whilst the loss of nuance is not necessarily their fault, they should have known how this story would be perceived by the public.  

When it comes to stories like this, there are never any winners, and this is the case with the development of the Huw Edwards story. Now that the dust has settled, I believe that we will remember this story as a modern indictment of how journalism can be weaponized to sell a particular story, even if that story is not entirely accurate. Poor reporting is allowed to be excused by the masses as long as the narrative is strong. What this all means for Edward’s reputation is yet to be seen, but if it never fully recovers it will be because of both the state of modern journalistic standards and his defenders’ inability to sort through the anger of the people who learnt about the story, led by the paper that orchestrated it.

Words by James Evenden


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