Defamation and privacy concerns are holding media organisations back from publishing the name of a BBC star at the centre of sex photo claims, media law experts have said.
A prominent male presenter has been suspended from the corporation, following accusations, first reported in The Sun, that he allegedly paid more than £35,000 to a teenager for sexually explicit photographs.
The mother of the individual, now 20, made claims in the newspaper that the arrangement went back to when the young person was 17 years old and that the payments helped fuel a crack cocaine addiction.
No media outlet has named the presenter at the heart of the claims, but social media has been awash with speculation over the weekend.
Media partner at Glaisyers Solicitors, Steve Kuncewicz, told i defamation and privacy concerns are the main reasons the presenter is not currently being publicly identified.
He said there was a high defamation risk involved in this story, but many details of the allegations weren’t known.
He said: “This case really is marked out by what we don’t know at the moment, we don’t know if there’s a criminal offence involved. If there’s a suggestion this person is involved in a criminal offence, that is about the most serious libel you can accuse somebody of.”
The BBC is meeting with the Met Police today. In a statement released on Sunday evening, the force said they had “received initial contact with the BBC in relation to this matter, but no formal referral or allegation has been made”.
Breaching rights to privacy is also a central concern. A landmark ruling at the Supreme Court in 2022, Bloomberg v ZXC, means someone is entitled to privacy if they are under a criminal investigation but have not yet been formally charged and sent to the courts, Mr Kuncewicz said.
He added: “There is always an argument of public interest, there is always an argument that the freedom of expression of the press may outweigh the privacy rights of the individual, but because we have this case that deals with criminal investigations in particular, or the potential of criminal investigation, that’s why I think the press is being much more cautious than they have previously.”
Mark Stephens, media law expert and partner at Howard Kennedy, said there was “a second layer of privacy” at issue here, the “contractual arrangement” between the BBC and its members of staff.
“If there are allegations of inappropriate behaviour, or any other kind of breach of employment practice, they should be investigated confidentially,” he said.
“That’s doesn’t matter whether you’re a celebrity or in the local office or on the building site, the same law applies.
“That’s why [BBC Director-General] Tim Davie, for example, didn’t know because the HR department weren’t allowed to tell him because he didn’t have a need to know at that point in time.”
Mr Stephens said that this “second layer of privacy” was preventing the BBC from defending the innocent presenters from being named.
Following the allegations made over the weekend, several stars have felt they needed to publicly state on social media that they are not the presenter in question.
Mr Kuncewicz said uninformed speculation can be dangerous for the subjects and for any individuals or organisations speculating about the presenter.
“Even if it’s not a criminal investigation, the idea [someone] has been behaving inappropriately with a teenager is the kind of thing that could ruin a career. It’s serious stuff.”
Nonetheless, he said it was possible that now the story is in the public domain, speculation over the identity would build to a point where the name of the person will be published by a media outlet.