BBC gives Gary Lineker the green light to air his political views on social media despite his anti-Tory tweets that sparked an impartiality row
- Updated BBC guidelines say big stars are ‘free to express opinions’
- Rules say they cannot comment on ‘a matter of political debate’ during elections
- Lineker was at the heart of an impartiality crisis for the BBC in March
Gary Lineker has been given the green light by the BBC to carry on giving his political views on social media, despite the impartiality crisis sparked by his anti-Tory tweets.
The BBC yesterday revealed how in its updated rules, stars on ‘flagship programmes’ will be ‘free to express opinions about the issues that matter’ to them, including on ‘issues that may be the subject of public political debate’.
The updated guidance follows a review ordered after the Match of the Day host compared the language used in the Government’s migration crackdown to Nazi Germany.
The new guidelines make clear that top stars cannot ‘endorse or attack a political party’ or ‘criticise the character of individual politicians in the UK’ during the period in which their shows are running on television schedules.
The new rules also state that these high-profile presenters cannot comment on an issue that is ‘a matter of political debate’ during general elections and referendums.
Lineker was at the centre of an impartiality crisis in March over social media posts comparing language used in the Government’s migration crackdown to ‘1930s Germany’
The BBC said the specific guidance for flagship programmes ‘recognises the importance of freedom of expression’.
But critics have accused the BBC of ’empowering’ the presenter to continue tweeting about highly-contentious issues through the open-ended and poorly defined guidelines.
And, because the rules only apply to ‘flagship programmes’, many well-known BBC hosts are not covered, including Springwatch star Chris Packham, who has publicly defended eco-activists breaking the law.
Former head of the corporation’s editorial policy Richard Ayre said on BBC News: ‘The fact that Gary Lineker has welcomed these guidelines tells you quite a lot about what Gary thinks about them. I think he must believe that they empower him to say pretty much what he has already said.’
He added: ‘I suspect Gary will feel able to continue to say the sort of things he said before, I think it probably is a win for Gary Lineker.’
BBC staff working in news and current affairs and factual journalism will still have to abide by stricter rules on impartiality than other types of on-air stars.
The new rules come after a review was carried out by former ITN chief executive John Hardie into the issue.
Gary Lineker is the presenter of Match of the Day on the BBC and one of its highest paid stars
This came in the wake of the impartiality crisis sparked in March when Lineker used social media to compare the language used in the Government’s migration crackdown to ‘1930s Germany’.
The BBC stood the Match of the Day host down from the show following the comment, which prompted other BBC sport presenters, commentators and pundits to boycott the corporation’s shows.
BBC director-general Tim Davie ended the crisis by reinstating Lineker and promising a review into the guidelines, which he had admitted were affected by ‘grey areas’.
But for many the new rules have done little to settle the issue over the guidelines over the social media activity of BBC stars, with complaints they are still confusing.
Tory MP Peter Bone said: ‘In my book if we are going to have a state broadcaster and they are going to pay extraordinary amounts of money to presenters, they should be politically neutral. I don’t want to know what their political views are.’
Setting out his recommendations, Mr Hardie said: ‘High-profile presenters outside of journalism should be able to express views on issues and policies – including matters of political contention – but stop well short of campaigning in party politics or for activist organisations’.
Mr Davie said: ‘The new guidance, which includes new requirements for presenters of our flagship programmes, is both proportionate and fair and protects these commitments.’
Mr Ayre said that the guidelines were so open to interpretation, it was possible that the tweet comparing a Government minister’s rhetoric to Nazi propaganda may well be allowed under the new rules.
He said: ‘I don’t see anything in the new guidelines which will stop him from saying that again.’