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BBC announces review of social media guidelines follow hoo haa over Gary Lineker tweet

By | Published on Tuesday 14 March 2023


After a bizarre few days in which a tweet by an ex-footballer became the biggest political story of the moment in the UK, the BBC has announced a review of its social media guidelines for people working for and with the broadcaster.

For those of you not living in Stupid Land, here’s a recap of recent events: former footballer and now BBC sports presenter Gary Lineker wrote on Twitter that the new Illegal Migration Bill being proposed by the UK government was “an immeasurably cruel policy directed at the most vulnerable people in language that is not dissimilar to that used by Germany in the 30s”.

Those remarks sent the right wing division of the ‘outrage for hire’ brigade into meltdown and, in a panicked response, the BBC removed Lineker from its flagship football show ‘Match Of The Day’.

In protest at that move, which many saw as BBC bosses folding under pressure from the government, most of Lineker’s on-air colleagues bailed on last week’s BBC sports programming, putting the Beeb into full-on crisis mode.

The presenter’s opinions on the government’s proposed new immigration laws quickly became irrelevant and the key debate was whether Lineker had breached the BBC’s social media rules.

Super keen to ensure its news operation is seen to be politically impartial – partly because that’s always good for a news operation, but mainly because of the broadcaster’s licence fee funding and the Royal Charter that provides that funding – the BBC has rules about what its employees, especially within BBC News, can and can’t say on social media.

But the big question posed by last week’s debacle was whether all the restrictions that apply to the BBC’s news teams also apply to those working for BBC Sport, including freelance on-screen talent like Lineker.

And even if they do, should they? Should the BBC be restricting the free speech rights of all its employees and talent – including those working in sport or, for that matter, music – or just those directly connected to the news division that needs to be seen to be impartial?

Anyway, the conclusion seems to be that it’s hard to answer that big question because of “grey areas” in the current BBC rules. So the solution announced yesterday was to allow Lineker back on air – so that all his colleagues will likewise return to chat endlessly about football – and to then instigate a review of those BBC social media rules.

BBC boss man Tim Davie said in a statement: “Everyone recognises this has been a difficult period for staff, contributors, presenters and, most importantly, our audiences. I apologise for this. The potential confusion caused by the grey areas of the BBC’s social media guidance that was introduced in 2020 is recognised. I want to get matters resolved and our sport content back on air”.

“Impartiality is important to the BBC”, he went on. “It is also important to the public. The BBC has a commitment to impartiality in its Charter and a commitment to freedom of expression. That is a difficult balancing act to get right where people are subject to different contracts and on air positions, and with different audience and social media profiles”.

“The BBC’s social media guidance is designed to help manage these sometimes difficult challenges and I am aware there is a need to ensure that the guidance is up to this task”, he continued. “It should be clear, proportionate and appropriate. Accordingly, we are announcing a review led by an independent expert – reporting to the BBC – on its existing social media guidance, with a particular focus on how it applies to freelancers outside news and current affairs”.

“The BBC and myself are aware that Gary is in favour of such a review”, he concluded. “Shortly, the BBC will announce who will conduct that review. Whilst this work is undertaken, the BBC’s current social media guidance remains in place. Gary is a valued part of the BBC and I know how much the BBC means to Gary, and I look forward to him presenting our coverage this coming weekend”.