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The Sun has every right to ‘dig for dirt’

The BBC presenter scandal has exposed just how much the woke elites hate the Sun and press freedom.

Brendan O'Neill

Brendan O'Neill
chief political writer

Topics UK

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Wait, how has the Sun ended up in the dock? The speed with which the BBC presenter scandal has been twisted into an indictment of the redtop that first reported it has been extraordinary. Within days of the Sun alleging that a top BBC personality had paid a young person for sex pics, the chattering classes were up in arms. They were consumed by ‘righteous fury’. Not with the Beeb. Not with the presenter who allegedly used money to secure revealing photographs. No, with the Sun. With the tabloid that told all. In the words of Hacked Off, those posh crusaders against the ‘low’ press, the Sun has ‘questions to answer’.

This is surreal. A popular newspaper reports, in good faith, a mother’s allegation that a BBC presenter exchanged money for pics with one of her adult kids, and it’s the paper that has questions to answer? It’s the Sun that’s making the media elite feel ‘extremely angry’, to quote former BBC staffer Jon Sopel? One after another, the privileged of the mainstream media – John Simpson, Owen Jones, Emily Maitlis – have pointed a finger of judgement at the Sun. At the paper that is making serious claims about an allegedly highly paid, well-connected presenter at the public broadcaster. Rarely has the cultural elite’s contempt for the Sun been so graphically illustrated. ‘How dare you riff-raff call into question the integrity of the mighty BBC?’, these tabloid-bashers are essentially saying.

The Sun’s reports about the BBC presenter seem to me to be in the public interest. Yes, there is much that is still unclear. It is mainly the mother of the young person at the centre of this story who is claiming that the presenter acted inappropriately. The young person themselves has made a statement through their lawyer saying the claims are ‘rubbish’ and that ‘nothing inappropriate’ happened. Yet the Sun clearly made an editorial judgement – a legitimate one, at that – that the public had a right to know that allegations of a sexual nature had been made against a leading BBC figure.

It has since been alleged that the same BBC figure broke lockdown rules to meet a 23-year-old after hooking up on a dating site. And that he also initiated a ‘creepy’ private chat on Instagram with someone who was 17. ‘[L]ooking back now, it does seem creepy because he was messaging me when I was still at school’, said the alleged recipient of those private messages, who is now 22.

Personally, stories about people’s private lives are not my bag. I find them a little lurid. Yet the idea that the Sun’s reports about the BBC presenter are unethical nonsense, voyeurism masquerading as journalism, is ridiculous. The paper has simply decided, as is its right under the freedom of the press, to highlight what it alleges to be an abuse of power by a BBC figure. And to draw attention to the possibility that a presenter who may have made solemn pronouncements about lockdown rules allegedly subverted those rules after meeting someone on a dating site. This is journalism. You may not like it, but that’s your problem.

Jon Sopel, in his spluttering condemnation of the Sun on The News Agents, the podcast he co-hosts, said this out-of-control redtop is just ‘trying to dig and find new dirt’. Never! That’s what newspapers do, Jon. It is striking that a newspaper’s reporting can be described either as ‘investigative journalism’ or ‘dirt-digging’ depending on whether the great and the good approve of it.

And then there’s the most hypocritical element in this orgy of Sun-bashing. As far as we know, the BBC presenter did nothing illegal, say the Sun’s ‘righteous’ critics, and it is a disgrace to decency to try to tear someone down over their alleged sexual predilections. He’s innocent until proven guilty, they cry. To which one can only say: #MeToo, anyone?

The people damning the Sun for its weird curiosity, for allegedly wanting to destroy an individual’s reputation on the basis of allegations alone, need to look in a mirror. This has been the stuff of broadsheet journalism for the past few years. Hollywood stars and politicians have had their reputations shredded after people alleged that they did certain things – things that also were not illegal in some cases.

Who can forget the Damian Green scandal, when the Tory MP was hauled over the coals, in part for sending ‘inappropriate’ texts to the journalist Kate Maltby? In one of those texts, he said he felt ‘impelled’ to ask Ms Maltby out for a drink after seeing a photo of her in a corset in a newspaper. The BBC was all over that story. It even did a Frost / Nixon-style interview with Maltby about Green’s ‘sexual suggestions’. So a leading politician sending sexual texts to a journalist in her thirties is an epic scandal, but a leading public broadcaster allegedly doing the same with younger people is not? Make it make sense.

I agree that everyone is innocent until proven guilty. This BBC presenter, actors, MPs – no one should be expelled from public life on the basis of an accuser’s word. spiked made that point consistently during the #MeToo era. However, those currently on their high horses over the Sun’s ‘dirt-digging’ did not. If a middle-class journalist makes an accusation against a right-wing politician, they instantly believe it. If the favoured paper of the working classes makes an accusation against someone at the BBC, they suddenly remember how important the presumption of innocence is. Do they think we cannot see through their posturing and cant?

The hypocrisy is not difficult to explain. It’s underpinned by their classist loathing of the Sun. From both establishment journalists and radical leftists, the cry has gone up: ‘Never believe the Sun!’ They hate that paper, and more importantly its suggestible, dangerous readers, as they see them. And now we know that their Sunphobia is so intense it overrides everything else. The ideal of press freedom, the principle of editorial judgement, even their own feverish devotion to dragging down big names accused of bad behaviour – all are subordinated to their crusade against the troublemaking ‘gutter’ press. They’ve closed ranks, in defence of the state power represented by the BBC against the probing of the ‘low’ free press. It’s that simple.

Brendan O’Neill is spiked’s chief political writer and host of the spiked podcast, The Brendan O’Neill Show. Subscribe to the podcast here. His new book – A Heretic’s Manifesto: Essays on the Unsayable – is available to order on Amazon UK and Amazon US now. And find Brendan on Instagram: @burntoakboy

Picture by: YouTube / Sky News.

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Topics UK

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