BBC Presenters Get New Rules After Gary Lineker Social Media Row – Deadline

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Star BBC presenters such as Gary Lineker should avoid overt “political campaigning,” according to new rules recommended in an independent report for the UK’s public broadcaster.

As we tipped yesterday, the results of former ITN boss John Hardie’s report into how BBC presenters, stars and journalists should use social media have been unveiled today.

Among the key recommendations are a set of guidelines for “flagship-brand presenters” such as Match of the Day host Lineker and The Apprentice‘s Alan Sugar. Those included would come from “an evolving list at its discretion by the BBC” and would be expected to pay “particular responsibility to respect the BBC’s impartiality” due to their profiles.

While presenters should be allowed to enjoy freedom of expression on social media, they should be involved in “party political campaigning, support for or attacks on political parties, individual politicians, governments or activist organisations,” the report states.

Furthermore, the BBC should should “be prescriptive” in what is not acceptable to help presenters find the line.

This comes after the huge controversy that blew up after former English footballer Lineker, who is the BBC’s highest paid presenter, was suspended after comparing the language used by the UK government around its immigration policy to rhetoric deployed in 1930s Germany. Lineker’s suspension was quickly reversed after his close colleagues effectively went on strike in protest over his treatment, forcing shows off air.

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.”

He added it was “appropriate to set the highest expectations for social media conduct of the main presenters of its flagship brands and craft specific, proportionate guidance for them.”

Lineker tweeted to say the rules were “very sensible.”

Broadly, the Hardie report states the BBC should “set a new mission to promote civility in public discourse” and “insist that all those who present BBC programmes should respect diversity of opinion and exemplify BBC’s ethos of civility on social media.”

As is currently the case, the toughest social media rules will impact news and current affairs and factual journalism production, along with all senior leaders.

Other BBC staff or freelancers won’t have to uphold the BBC’s impartiality through their actions on social media but must adhere to the same focus on civility in public discourse and “not bring the BBC into disrepute.”

BBC Director General Tim Davie expanded on the notion, saying in a statement: “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.”

Hardie spoke to more than 80 people to inform his report, with sources coming from inside and outside the BBC. The Corporation has published Hardie’s report in full, outlining his process and his considerations around correct social media usage.

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