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TV review: BBC News

21 July 2023


BBC News was dominated last week by news about Huw Edwards

BBC News was dominated last week by news about Huw Edwards

OUT of the Thirty-Nine, Article XXVI explicitly states that the unworthiness of ministers is no hindrance to the efficacy of the sacraments that they administer. No doubt this reflection will be as uppermost in your minds as it is in mine as we reflect on the disturbing case of Huw Edwards.

It is a sad indication of any institution’s decline when it spends more time and energy on its own internal matters than on looking outwards (Church of England, please note); and, throughout the earlier part of last week, BBC News spent far too much attention, and accorded far too much time as its lead story, to following up The Sun’s allegation of improper messages to vulnerable persons from an unnamed senior broadcaster.

The Corporation is in a cleft stick: it has to prove that it takes such accusations seriously, beleaguered by government paymasters eager to clip its supposedly Leftist wings, and egged on, of course, by News Corp, The Sun’s owners. But, considering our current potentially terminal global manifestations of war, famine, fire, and pestilence, we might think that there were more crucial matters to report on the nation’s flagship news bulletin.

Social media seethed with speculation and accusation, naming various BBC presenters who then denied that they were the person involved. To staunch this frenzy, Mr Edwards’s wife issued a statement to say that her husband was the man accused, and that he was now in hospital, having suffered a mental-health episode.

Serious questions remain to be resolved: Mr Edwards’s guilt or innocence (the original “victim” has stated that nothing illegal took place, and the police have determined that there is no criminal case to answer); The Sun’s journalistic practices; the BBC’s handling of the original accusation, and how it exercises its duty of care towards employees; and the potential abuse inherent in any relationship between the unassailably powerful and those junior.

Our concern, however, is the extent to which the moral standing or otherwise of a presenter enhances or taints the material that he or she broadcasts. This is particularly true of BBC news, speaking to and for the country with essential gravity and responsibility. Mr Edwards was chosen and built up by the Corporation to project our national image, worthy to announce the Queen’s death and General Election results, and to commentate on the Coronation.

It is no wonder that scripture condemns so fiercely the sin of false witness: once suspicion wreaths its tentacles around the reputation of any public figure (something that the clergy know as well as TV presenters), then it is almost impossible to rid our minds of the accusation, however minor or even non-existent the reality turns out to be. Mr Edwards has been considered a pre-eminent news presenter — and yet I doubt that he’ll ever be able to re-establish his position.

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