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Trial by Media: Ryan Tubridy and Huw Edwards

Images: www.www.irishexaminer.com & www.theguardian.com

Images: www.www.irishexaminer.com & www.theguardian.com

For the past three weeks, RTE has been plunged into crisis by the front-page news scandal of the pay revelations concerning the hugely popular presenter, Ryan Tubridy. Now across the water, the BBC finds itself in hot water as the highly respected television presenter, Huw Edwards is named as the person at the centre of allegations over payments to a  young person aged 17 for sexually explicit images.

Both men are the most highly paid of all their colleagues in their respective broadcasters. However, while Ryan Tubridy appeared before two Oireachtas  Hearings on Tuesday, Huw Edwards, who has a history of severe depression, is now receiving in-patient care as he is suffering from mental health issues.  His wife released a statement revealing this fact and confirming that he is the previously unnamed BBC star concerned.

Trust in Tatters

One of the reasons these events are proving so controversial is that people feel a sense of betrayal. Ryan Tubridy was seen as being in touch with the ordinary people of Ireland.  His cheery, conversational style was meant to engage and encourage, and his presence was reassuring and empathetic. This was particularly evident during the years of the Covid pandemic. While Joe Duffy told us to wash our hands, Ryan spoke to our emotions saying, “I hear you and”, “I have your back”.  Now it appears that those last words were a smokescreen for what was going on behind the taxpayers’ backs.

Seamus Dooley, NUJ Irish secretary said, “I am mindful also of the sense of betrayal felt by workers whom I and my colleagues represented in good faith negotiations, while a parallel process of negotiations, while a parallel process of negotiations with a third party was undertaken by RTE.  The process and the arrangements entered into led to deception of staff, the public, and the government”.

BBC culture editor Katie Razzal said Huw Edwards was a man who embodied BBC values. When the unthinkable, but inevitable, happened last September, the eyes of the nation fell on Edwards when he reported the death of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II.  As the face of BBC News, he was respected and admired in equal measure.  For two decades he has been the stalwart of the BBC flagship news programme: the go-to-anchor for state occasions, both joyful and solemn, as well as a national hero in native Wales.  The description ‘national treasure’ was increasingly being applied to him.

Will Ryan Tubridy return to work for RTE?  Can the Church-going Edwards father-of-five ever win back the faith of the viewers? Probably of more importance for the latter at present is his mental health and well-being.

Aftermath

Deputy Labour leader, Angela Rayner has said that the BBC must now be ‘transparent’ in the way they continue with their investigation. It must be done ‘in the correct manner’ as the broadcaster has to sensitively deal with a complex family situation and Huw Edwards in hospital.

The reputation of RTE has taken an enormous blow with questions about truth, integrity, injustice, and cover-ups. It has even been suggested that they should be shut down altogether. The crisis has deepened since Tubridy and Kelly’s claims that it is RTE who is to blame for the whole fiasco.

Although the listeners are split 50/50 on the question of whether Tubridy should be allowed back on air, the staff in RTE are 70/30 against his return. George Hook, former rugby pundit and broadcaster said he believes it will be very hard for Ryan to walk into the Canteen again and that if he were in his shoes he wouldn’t want to come back.

Duty of Care

In England, the BBC face serious questions about how much it knew about claims that the broadcaster was sending flirtatious messages to junior staff and young people outside the organisation. They have also been accused of being ‘too slow’ to react having taken seven weeks to confront him with claims he paid £35,000 to a danger for sexually explicit photographs.

However, the situation has been complicated because the young person involved, now aged twenty, is estranged from their mother who made the initial accusations to The Sun newspaper and has claimed her allegations are “rubbish”. Two police forces have carried out an initial assessment of allegations made against Edwards and concluded no crime has been committed.

Although the mechanics of defamation and privacy laws did to some extent protect Huw Edwards there was no protection from the wild speculation flooding social media. This had repercussions not only for him and his family but also for other presenters like Gary Lineker and Jeremy Vine who were forced to publicly speak out denying that they were the person at the centre of the scandal.

In an email to staff BBC director general Tim Davis said, “At the heart of this are people and their families. This will no doubt be a difficult time for many after a challenging few days.  I want to reassure you that our immediate concern is our duty of care to all involved.” Families of celebrities are rarely considered and have to deal with the fallout of such controversies. Ryan Tubridy made this same point during his evidence at the Oireachtas. He also said he was afraid to open his front door.

Social media crowds are not empathetic, they just want the story and do not care who they hurt in the process.

Sadly, in such situations, there is little doubt that the words of Abraham Lincoln ring true, ‘Reputation is like fine china; once broken, it’s very hard to repair.’

Written by Marie – Therese Cryan

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