LONDON — The BBC said Sunday that it has suspended a leading presenter who is alleged to have paid a teenager for sexually explicit photos.
As senior British politicians urged a rapid investigation, the broadcaster said it was working to establish the facts of “a complex and fast-moving set of circumstances.”
The U.K.’s publicly funded national broadcaster was scrambling to head off a worsening crisis after The Sun newspaper reported allegations that the male presenter gave a youth 35,000 pounds ($45,000) starting in 2020 when the young person was 17.
Neither the star nor the youth was identified. Amid speculation on social media about the identity of the presenter, several of the BBC’s best-known stars spoke up to say it wasn’t them.
Though the age of sexual consent in Britain is 16, it’s a crime to make or possess indecent images of anyone under 18.
The Sun said the young person’s mother had complained to the BBC in May but that the presenter had remained on the air.
The BBC said in a statement on Sunday that it “first became aware of a complaint in May,” but that “new allegations were put to us on Thursday of a different nature.”
The broadcaster said “the BBC takes any allegations seriously and we have robust internal processes in place to proactively deal with such allegations.” 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,” the BBC said.
“We can also confirm a male member of staff has been suspended.”
Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer held crisis talks with the broadcaster’s director-general about what she called “deeply concerning” allegations. She said Director General Tim Davie had assured her the BBC was “investigating swiftly and sensitively.”
“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. I will be kept updated,” she wrote on social media.
Rachel Reeves, economy spokeswoman for the opposition Labour Party, said the BBC needed to “speed up their processes” and “get their house in order.”
Commercial U.K. broadcaster ITV recently faced its own scandal after Phillip Schofield, a long-time host on the channel’s popular morning show, quit in May, admitting he had lied about an affair with a much younger colleague.
ITV executives were summoned to Parliament to answer questions about whether the broadcaster had a “toxic” work culture and had covered up misconduct by stars.
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 soccer player Gary Lineker, criticized 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.