In a sign that Newsnight may have crossed a line with its inquiries, managers made the team aware that some staff felt uncomfortable being asked questions about their interactions with Edwards, who is suspended amid accusations he paid a young person for explicit images.
Deadline revealed yesterday that presenter Victoria Derbyshire was examining Edwards’ conduct prior to allegations being published in The Sun newspaper last Friday. Now, three sources have told Deadline that there was disquiet over how Newsnight’s probe developed this week.
Newsnight was accused of “profiling” potential Edwards sources by trawling through the 5,810 people he follows on Twitter and identifying BBC employees who may have had allegations to share about his behavior. Edwards’ Twitter ‘likes’ were also said to have been examined.
It is understood that a handful of BBC staff members were contacted by Newsnight. The show reported on Wednesday that Edwards allegedly sent “inappropriate” and “suggestive” messages to junior BBC employees, including making comments about their appearance.
“It’s really distasteful,” said a BBC insider familiar with Newsnight’s hunt for a story. Sources said it had fuelled concerns that BBC News’ coverage of the Edwards scandal was too agressive. There was also anger over the timing of the Newsnight report, coming just hours after it was revealed that Edwards was in hospital with severe mental health issues.
A senior BBC News source said: “We fully take on board the views of staff who have felt uncomfortable with the work on this particular piece of reporting, we’ve fed that back to those involved in the journalism, and we’ll talk to the affected staff about it if they wish.”
The source denied that employees were profiled, however. They said Newsnight journalists were examining what appeared to be a pattern involving Edwards allegedly “engaging with people publicly on social media before contacting them privately.”
A BBC spokesperson said: “We always treat the concerns of staff with care, and would always urge any staff members to speak to us.”
BBC News CEO Deborah Turness emailed the newsroom on Thursday to say that individual teams will be invited to attend “safe space” meetings in which people can express “anything that’s on your mind.”
In the message seen by Deadline, she was not specific about what people may wish to discuss, but said managers will point employees to support tools, including mental health services. Turness added that managers will also make themselves available for private meetings.
The email could be interpreted as managers clearing a path for employees to flag any concerns they may have over the alleged conduct of Edwards. The meetings could also serve as a forum for some to express disquiet over BBC News’ coverage of the saga.
Turness — who has recused herself from editorial decisions on Edwards — said there were “difficult moments and tough decisions” to come as the story develops. “I have seen the kindness, thoughtfulness and understanding you are showing each other. Please do continue to look out for each other,” she said.
The BBC is conducting its own corporate investigation into Edwards and the external complaint about his conduct in May. A spokesperson said: “We are moving forward with our fact-finding investigations. We are going to get on with this work calmly, carefully and with diligence, with full consideration of our duty of care to all involved. We will not be providing further comment while this work is ongoing.”
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