The BBC has announced an independent review of its social media guidelines following the boycott by sports presenters over the weekend.
Gary Lineker, whose tweet last week compared the language used by the government on asylum seekers to 1930s Germany, will return to Match of the Day this weekend after he was asked on Friday by BBC management to step back from hosting the show.
That led to co-hosts and other football presenters and commentators boycotting programmes on BBC television and radio in solidarity, as they defended Lineker’s right to freedom of speech.
Lineker and BBC management have now reached a deal to get the presenter back on air, after the weekend’s disruption to BBC Sport’s schedules.
BBC director general Tim Davie said: “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.
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“Impartiality is important to the BBC. 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. 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 added that during the review, current BBC current social media guidelines will remain in place.
After a surreal few days, I’m delighted that we have navigated a way through this. I want to thank you all for the incredible support, particularly my colleagues at BBC Sport, for the remarkable show of solidarity. Football is a team game but their backing was overwhelming. 1/4
— Gary Lineker 💙💛 (@GaryLineker) March 13, 2023
“Gary is a valued part of the BBC and I know how much the BBC means to Gary,” said Davie, “and I look forward to him presenting our coverage this coming weekend.”
Lineker said: “I am glad that we have found a way forward. I support this review and look forward to getting back on air.”
Philippa Childs, head of the Bectu union, said: “We are pleased to hear that the BBC will conduct a review of its social media guidance. The director general has previously committed to engaging with Bectu on the impartiality guidelines; now more than ever it’s critical that the workforce is involved in these discussions. Bectu and the [National Union of Journalists] must therefore be involved in this latest review, and we will be writing to the BBC to demand this.”
Jim Moore, employee relations expert at HR consultants Hamilton Nash, said: “Not many people have as many online followers as Gary Lineker, but a poorly thought-through post on social media can still have a seismic impact on employees and employers alike.
“There are many cases where employees have lost their jobs due to ill-judged social media posts, with one worker famously sacked by Apple for ranting about his employer on a private Facebook page.
“Gary Lineker’s case shows how important it is for an employer’s social media policies to be specific about what is and what isn’t acceptable.
“Policies should be carefully balanced between employees’ rights to express personal opinions and the employers’ expectations that the company is not dragged into disrepute.
“There is also no point in having a social media policy if employees don’t know about their responsibilities, so regular awareness sessions are needed to keep workers abreast of any changes to policies.”
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