How Gary Lineker furore could spark BBC social media revolution

New review announced by corporation intends to rewrite guidelines over social media use by top stars

Gary Lineker
Lineker said: ‘I support this review and look forward to getting back on air’
(Image credit: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

The BBC has announced a review of its guidelines on social media use after reinstating Gary Lineker as Match of the Day host.

The corporation’s flagship football show was reduced to just 20 minutes on Saturday night after a number of pundits pulled out in support of Lineker following his suspension for tweeting criticisms of the government’s Illegal Migration Bill. In a statement apologising to licence fee payers, BBC director-general Tim Davie said current social media guidelines contained “grey areas” that had caused confusion.

The review “will look in particular at how the guidelines apply to freelances outside news and current affairs, such as Lineker”, said Press Gazette. In an accompanying statement, the former footballer said: “I am glad that we have found a way forward. I support this review and look forward to getting back on air.”

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Conservative MP Tom Hunt told Politico he was disappointed that there had been no “acknowledgement of any wrongdoing” by the presenter. Hunt also predicted a “growing number” would call for an end to the BBC licence fee.

Citing the position of the BBC chair Richard Sharp, who has donated money to the Conservative Party, ITV noted that “many say the move to suspend the presenter has exposed hypocrisy at the broadcaster over its impartiality rules”. The BBC has been “accused of having double standards over its employees on the left and right of politics”.

James Harding, the corporation’s former director of news, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the row was part of a “bigger muddle on impartiality”.

Harding said the BBC should not be able to “police” the opinions of every contributor outside its news and current affairs division. “Not only can you not actually do it, but the principle is wrong… because it will actually deter people from joining the BBC, it will diminish the BBC,” he said.

Stephen Bush in the Financial Times agreed, saying: “The conclusion the BBC’s review should reach is that the only reasonable expectation you have of a service is professionalism, not that their social media feeds will be free of anything you find disagreeable.”

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Jamie Timson is the UK news editor, curating The Week UK's daily morning newsletter and setting the agenda for the day's news output. He was first a member of the team from 2015 to 2019, progressing from intern to senior staff writer, and then rejoined in September 2022. As a founding panellist on “The Week Unwrapped” podcast, he has discussed politics, foreign affairs and conspiracy theories, sometimes separately, sometimes all at once. In between working at The Week, Jamie was a senior press officer at the Department for Transport, with a penchant for crisis communications, working on Brexit, the response to Covid-19 and HS2, among others.