The BBC has today revealed new guidelines, following the row over social media posts by Gary Lineker back in March. Essentially, it boils down to freelance presenters outside of news, particularly those on flagship shows, being allowed to express their views on various topics. However, they must not attack politicians personally or question their character. Furthermore, they are not allowed to campaign for political parties or campaign organisations either.
The executive summary explains:
Flagship-Brand Presenters must refrain from campaigning in party politics or for activist
a) Do not endorse nor attack political parties, individual politicians or urge the
public to vote for a party
b) Do not ‘campaign by proxy’ by posting frequently on a range of issues that
resemble one party’s manifesto and presents sustained criticism to a
government or opposition policy agenda
News presenters and journalists, of course, have to keep their beliefs under wraps. Former ITN boss John Hardie, who conducted the review, commented:
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 the BBC’s ethos of civility on social media.
The new social media guidance states that ultimately those deemed to have broken the rules can be fired.
BBC Rules Problem – It’s Not Just Gary Lineker on Social Media
That is all very well, but can probably already see the issue. The final recommendations are somewhat vague. Some of that is presumably by design. They apply to a range of different contributors, not just Lineker, so a level of flexibility is required. But it also leaves the possibility of all sorts of controversies and inconsistencies arising.
One former BBC staffer described the new guidance to me as “a dog’s breakfast” that “will fall apart the first time it’s challenged by the angry wing of the Tories.” I definitely think the new guidelines leave room for external attack, whether it is from the Conservatives or anyone else. (Remember, Labour were unhappy that Lineker was sanctioned.) They likely prompt internal frustration too, as newsroom staff continue to have to abide by very strict rules.
The BBC has probably taken the most realistic and practicable of all the options available to it. However, I suspect today’s announcement will raise as many issues as it solves.
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Ever since the first row, I’ve thought that Gary Lineker will probably vacate the MOTD chair at the end of the current Premier League football season. He may have praised today’s announcement, but that doesn’t change my view much.
Lineker now has the “The Rest is Football” podcast with Alan Shearer and Michah Richards and is hardly short of cash. Leaving in May would mean he is free to air his views during the upcoming general election campaign, which will likely take place sometime between June and October next year. (And one for the future, Gary – it’s usually best not to compare things to the Nazis unless they are actual Nazis.)