The BBC today backed Gary Lineker to give his views on Twitter and Instagram in a new report ordered after the Match of the Day host compared Suella Braverman’s migrant boats crackdown and Rwanda plan to the policies of Nazi Germany.
The corporation has published specific guidance, as part of its social media review, for high-profile presenters hosting flagship programmes, which they must adhere to while the programme is on air and for a two-week window before and after the series.
In a section named ‘Flagship Programme Presenters’ – a reference to Lineker and others – it says: ‘You are free to express opinions about the issues that matter to you. This includes issues that may be the subject of public and political debate’.
The BBC named Dragons’ Den’s Evan Davis, The One Show’s Alex Jones, MasterChef hosts John Torode and Gregg Wallace, and Match Of The Day’s Mark Chapman and Lineker among those who fall under the rules. Strictly Come Dancing hosts Tess Daly and Claudia Winkleman and The Apprentice star Lord Alan Sugar have also been warned by the BBC that they could face disciplinary action for social media use.
But reacting this morning, Mr Lineker, who has repeatedly criticised Tory ministers and policies in recent years as well as praising Just Stop Oil, gave his backing, tweeting: ‘All very sensible’.
Gary Lineker earns £1.35million a year from the licence fee payer. The BBC today set out its new social media guidelines and said that ‘presenting flagship programmes carry a particular responsibility’ and presenters are ‘free to express opinions’ on public and political debate.
Mr Lineker backed the rules today
The report makes it clear that stars ‘are free to express opinions about the issues that matter to you’
Gary Lineker’s long list of Twitter controversies
Then-culture secretary Michelle Donelan said the BBC should be ‘conscious’ of recent comments made by Lineker.
Ms Donelan was speaking to The News Agents podcast about remarks Lineker had made on the same show about the World Cup in Qatar and racism in America.
‘There is a problem with impartiality and the BBC, they would say that they’ve recognised that themselves,’ she said.
Lineker breached BBC impartiality rules with a social media post criticising the Tories, the broadcaster’s complaints team ruled.
The Match of the Day host, 62, used Twitter to quote an article about Liz Truss – then foreign secretary – urging Premier League teams to boycott the Champions League final in Russia.
In his post, the former England striker, who has more than 8.7million followers on Twitter, added: ‘And her party will hand back their donations from Russian donors?’.
Lineker sparked a row with a senior BBC journalist this year with a Tweet about sewerage.
He wrote on Twitter: ‘As a politician how could you ever, under any circumstances, bring yourself to vote for pumping sewage into our seas? Unfathomable!’
The tweet prompted veteran BBC journalist Neil Henderson, a home and foreign news editor, to ask the presenter if his contract allowed him to breach the corporation’s impartiality rules.
The journalist wrote to him: ‘The BBC lives or dies by its impartiality. If you can’t abide it, get off it.’
Lineker found himself at odds with ex-racing driver turned Sky commentator Martin Brundle over his response to a Just Stop Oil protest.
Protesters stormed the British Grand Prix, sparking fury from Brundle, who said they could have been killed.
Lineker tweeted: ‘History will look back very favourably on these people’.
But Brundle replied: ‘Gary please don’t encourage this reckless behaviour. ‘They’d have been sliced into 100 pieces and fans, marshals and drivers were wholly at risk of injury and death. I totally support freedom of speech and opinion, but do it responsibly.’
Lineker was challenged over his comments on Brexit by BBC cricket commentator Jonathan Agnew.
Lineker has been vocal in his opposition to Brexit, including on Twitter and attending a rally in 2018 calling for a second referendum.
Agnew, responding to one of Lineker’s posts, Tweeted: ‘Gary. You are the face of BBC Sport. Please observe BBC editorial guidelines and keep your political views, whatever they are and whatever the subject, to yourself. I’d be sacked if I followed your example. Thanks.’
The guidance says stars van have their say but must not ‘endorse or attack a political party’, ‘criticise the character of individual politicians in the UK’, or ‘comment on any issue that is a matter of political debate during the election period’.
But it does not say whether Lineker’s tweet, which led to his suspension until stars refused to appear on screen until he was reinstated, would be allowed under the new rules.
Freelancers and BBC staff who do not work in news, current affairs or factual journalism production, or are not classified as senior leaders or named as the main presenter of flagship programmes do not fall under the new social media rules on impartiality.
Among these type of staff are actors, dramatists, comedians, musicians and pundits who work at the BBC.
The broadcaster said that these employees ‘must not bring the BBC into disrepute’ and are required to be respectful in public.
The guidance names things such as do treat others with respect even in the face of abuse, do not use offensive or aggressive language, take care when engaging with public debate, do not attack individuals you disagree with, do not criticise your colleagues in public, do not promote law breaking or be part of ill-tempered exchanges and conversations that reflect badly on the BBC or you.
It comes after an independent review was conducted by former ITN boss John Hardie, following Lineker’s brief BBC suspension after he compared the language used to launch a new Government asylum seeker policy with that of 1930s Germany on Twitter.
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 Hardie spoke to more than 80 people, both inside and outside the BBC as part of the review.
Presenters on flagship shows must not endorse or attack a political party, criticise the character of individual politicians in the UK, or take up an official role in campaigning groups, the report said.
BBC director-general Tim Davie said: ‘We all have a responsibility to treat people with civility and respect, particularly at a time when public debate and discussion, both on and offline, can be so polarised.
‘The BBC also has important commitments to both freedom of expression and impartiality – and this rightly extends to social media.
‘I would, therefore, like to thank John Hardie, and all those who took part in this review, for such a thorough, clear and considered report.
‘Clarity on how those working for the BBC use social media is not only important for them and the organisation, but also for our audiences.
‘The new guidance, which includes new requirements for presenters of our flagship programmes, is both proportionate and fair and protects these commitments.’
The BBC said the specific guidance for flagship programmes is in addition to the existing impartiality guidance for individuals working in news and current affairs and factual journalism production, which remains the same.
Downing Street called his intervention ‘not acceptable’ and ‘disappointing’, while Tory MPs lined up to criticise the flagrant breach of BBC impartiality rules.
BBC broadcaster Nick Robinson said he would have been sacked if he’d done what Lineker did.
Labour also condemned the comments, with Sir Keir Starmer’s spokesman saying comparisons with the Nazis ‘aren’t always the best way to make’ an argument.
Criticising Lineker, Energy Secretary Grant Shapps said on Twitter: ‘As a Jewish Cabinet minister I need no lessons about 1930s Germany from @GaryLineker.
‘Like Gary, I am hosting refugees in my own home, but unlike Gary, I do not believe it is either right or moral to tolerate criminal gangs trafficking vulnerable people across the Channel.’
Tory deputy chairman Lee Anderson told MailOnline: ‘Yet again Gary Lineker has been allowed to kick about vile and baseless accusations, and the public are sick to the back teeth of it. It’s time to tackle this woke crisp salesman and hold him to account for the nonsense he spews.’
Downing Street called his intervention ‘not acceptable’ and ‘disappointing’, while Tory MPs lined up to criticise this tweet from March as a flagrant breach of BBC impartiality rules
Lineker thanked his supporters after his tweet slamming the Government’s plan to crackdown on migrant crossings
Former minister Robert Jenrick said: ‘My children are the grandchildren of Holocaust survivors, and I think those sorts of words should not be thrown around lightly. Gary Lineker is paid for by the British taxpayer. And it’s disappointing that he is so far out of step with the British public.’
But in a defiant message to his 8.7million Twitter followers, Lineker said at the time: ‘I have never known such love and support in my life than I’m getting this morning (England World Cup goals aside, possibly).
‘I want to thank each and every one of you. It means a lot. I’ll continue to try and speak up for those poor souls that have no voice. Cheers all’.