The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) has suspended a leading presenter who allegedly paid a teenage girl for sexually explicit photos after senior British politicians called on the network to rapidly investigate the accusations.
The public broadcaster is under pressure after The Sun newspaper reported allegations on Sunday that the male presenter gave an unidentified youth, who was 17 years old at the time, 35,000 pounds ($45,000) starting in 2020 for the images.
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Speculation about the identity of the accused presenter – who has yet to be named – lit up social media, and several of the BBC’s best-known personalities distanced themselves from the story.
Though the age of sexual consent in Britain is 16, it is a crime to make or possess indecent images of anyone under 18.
The teenager’s family complained to the broadcaster on May 19, but the presenter was not immediately taken off the air, according to The Sun, which said the family had not requested payment for their story.
The news report said the family wanted the man to stop sending money because their relative was using it to fund a crack cocaine addiction.
In a statement, the BBC said “we treat any allegations very seriously and we have processes in place to proactively deal with them”.
It said the corporation had also been in touch with “external authorities”, but did not specify whether that was the police.
“This is a complex and fast-moving set of circumstances and the BBC is working as quickly as possible to establish the facts in order to properly inform appropriate next steps,” it said. “We can also confirm a male member of staff has been suspended.”
Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer held urgent talks with the BBC’s Director-General Tim Davie on Sunday about the allegations, which she described as “deeply concerning”.
“[Davie] has assured me the BBC are investigating swiftly and sensitively,” she said on Twitter. “Given the nature of the allegations it is important that the BBC is now given the space to conduct its investigation, establish the facts and take appropriate action.”
Rachel Reeves, economy spokeswoman for the opposition Labour Party, said the BBC needed to “speed up their processes” and “get their house in order”.
The BBC faces greater scrutiny than other broadcasters because it is taxpayer-funded and committed to remaining impartial in its news coverage.
It was engulfed in a storm over free speech and political bias in March when its leading sports presenter, former England football player Gary Lineker, criticised the government’s immigration policy on social media.
Lineker was suspended and then restored after other sports presenters, analysts and Premier League players boycotted the BBC airwaves in solidarity.