BBC presenter and armchair detectives: Islamic viewpoint on scandal and speculation

Romaan Basit, Ahmadiyya Archive and Research Centre
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Photo courtesy: Unsplash

The BBC presenter who has recently dominated the headlines due to his involvement in paying a teen for sexually explicit photographs has now been named. Although his identity was concealed whilst the investigation was underway, social media and gossip-filled news outlets immediately sprang to life and were rife with speculation.

The natural infuriation of the public isn’t much of a surprise, especially after the similar stories of Jimmy Saville and Phillip Schofield. This said, the open and free-for-all social media trial resulted in a number of well-known presenters being wrongfully blamed and accused in the process, causing them to face severe backlash.

Was it really a good idea to play the blame game and go investigating, even though the police and authorities were involved?

A myriad of tweets began to emerge over the weekend, attempting to guess the name of the presenter. In a ‘straw poll’ carried out by the Daily Mail, 49 out of 291 people approached in towns and cities around the country ‘correctly identified’ the presenter, meaning over 80% guessed wrong. ( Even betting shops openly offered odds on who the man was. Piers Morgan highlighted how “presenters like Gary Lineker, Rylan Clark and Jeremy Vine have all been disgracefully smeared and defamed by armchair detectives who don’t understand the devastating impact it has.” Jeremy Vine, one of the BBC’s highest-profile presenters and among the wrongfully accused, publicly appealed for the man to come forward himself to put an end to all the detrimental speculation.

There is no doubt that the actions of the individual were categorically wrong. However, the point is that instead of suddenly becoming armchair detectives and speculating, blaming and falsely accusing whilst the investigation was underway, it would have been better for people to leave the investigation to the rightful authorities.

Avoid suspicion, spying and slander: A Quranic teaching

As Muslims, we believe that the Holy Quran can be turned to for guidance in every single situation. No matter how contemporary an issue may seem, a Quranic solution can always be found. In the past couple of days, many innocent people have been wrongfully accused, creating a shadow of negativity around them and causing the public to think ill of them. Consequently, they have had to issue public statements denying all the false accusations.

To avoid all this in society, the Holy Quran teaches us to “avoid most of suspicions; for suspicion in some cases is a sin”. (Surah al-Hujurat, Ch.49: V.13). We are then instructed to “spy not, nor back-bite one another.”

Isn’t this exactly what we have witnessed in the last few days? In the commentary, it has been explained that this verse contains “some of those social evils that cause discord, dissensions and differences, and corrode, corrupt and contaminate a society”, and that Muslims have been enjoined “to be on guard against them” at all times. It continues to state that “by removing the basic causes of disharmony and disagreement […], the Surah has laid the foundation of a firm and solid brotherhood”. (Five Volume Commentary, Volume 5, p. 2963). By eliminating such vices, a harmonious society can be established.

True believers shun all that which is vain

Also, by heavily discussing such scandals, be it online or with our peers, we play a vital role in further spreading such immorality and indecency. This is detrimental to society. The Holy Quran teaches us that a key characteristic of true, righteous believers is that they “shun all that which is vain”. (Surah al-Mu’minun, Ch.23: V.4)

The Five Volume Commentary of the Holy Quran – inspired by the commentary of Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IIra – states that “the second stage in the spiritual journey of man consists of the avoidance of all vain talk and thoughts.” A true believer “shuns all vain and useless pursuits which are incapable of doing any good either to his own person or to his community or country”. (Five Volume Commentary, Vol. 4, p. 2186).

If we take a step back and think, what benefit was derived from all this speculation? The only outcome was negativity. The Holy Prophetsa taught us to either speak a good word or remain silent. (Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab al-adab, Hadith 6136) Similarly, in another hadith, we are taught that when we see something wrong, we must only intervene and stop it physically if we have the power to do so. If not, we should speak out against it, but only if this too can bring about a change. If not, then all we can do is deem it wrong in our hearts. (Sahih Muslim, Kitab-ul-Iman, Hadith no. 84) In this situation, we did not have the power to physically change the situation, nor would speaking out have any effect. The authorities were investigating the matter, dealing with evidence that was not available to the public; hence, it would have been wiser to wait for the identity to organically be revealed.

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Photo courtesy: Unsplash

Why was the identity kept a secret?

As for why the identity was concealed and not revealed earlier, it is important to note that severe legal problems can arise due to a lack of reportable evidence. The law of defamation protects the reputation of any individual from the massive harm that can potentially be caused by lies (we have witnessed so many cases of people being wrongly accused). This law protects anyone, whether it be a high-profile BBC presenter or an entirely private individual.

Dominic Casciani, home and legal correspondent of the BBC, wrote that “anyone speculating today on social media about the identity of the presenter should think very, very carefully about the consequences. They could be sued for the harm they cause and find themselves financially ruined.” Also, since a Supreme Court ruling in 2022, a right to privacy covers people who are under investigation by a law enforcement agency, which is the stage before they have been formally charged with a crime and sent to court. (

There are also privacy issues that may not carry any legal repercussions as such, but are ethically totally unacceptable; for example, the impact all this could have on the families and loved ones of all those involved. The Holy Quran tells us many times that “no soul will bear the burden of another soul”. (Surah Fatir, Ch.35: V.19). Why should entire families have to suffer for the mistakes of a single individual? The wife, children and loved ones of the presenter have done nothing wrong, yet they are having to bear the heavy consequences and burden of this social media trial. Is this really just and fair?

Say a good word or remain silent

The moral of the story is that speculation in the public sphere, while seemingly harmless, can inflict significant harm on innocent individuals. We have seen how innocent presenters were viciously accused and forced to defend themselves in the face of severe backlash. In the future, let’s leave the investigating to the investigators, and either say a good word or remain silent.

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