BBC to 'Review' Political Impartiality Rules After Backdown Over Lineker Tweets
The BBC announced only on Friday that Gary Lineker would "step back" from presenting its flagship football program after comparing government immigration policy to race laws in Nazi Germany — which the corporation said breached its impartiality rules.
British state media has apologised to former England football international Gary Lineker after suspending him for a day over politicised tweets.
The BBC announced on Monday that Lineker would return to hosting its Saturday afternoon football show Match of the Day, after regular pundits Ian Wright and Alan Shearer boycotted the broadcast in support of the host.
BBC Director-General Tim Davie also said the corporation would commission an independent review onto its guidelines on social media use.
"Everyone recognises this has been a difficult period for staff, contributors, presenters and, most importantly, our audiences. I apologise for this," Davie said. "Gary is a valued part of the BBC and I know how much the BBC means to Gary, and I look forward to him presenting our coverage this coming weekend."
The director-general said the publicly-funded broadcaster recognised the "potential confusion caused by the grey areas of the BBC's social media guidance that was introduced in 2020."
"Impartiality is important to the BBC. It is also important to the public," he stressed, but added that the corporation's charter also had "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," Davie said.
Match of the Day aired without post-game studio analysis or even in-match commentary on Saturday, after the BBC said on Friday that Lineker would temporarily "step back" from presenting the program during a probe into his latest breach of its rules on political impartiality.
That was after the pundit compared the Conservative government's latest proposed measures to stop the deadly people-trafficking trade across the English channel to Nazi-era Germany.
Some viewers tweeted the show was better without the talking heads sharing their opinions — an opinion backed up by figures showing viewership was up by half a million to 2.58 million.
© Alex Daggers/TwitterA tweet saying BBC football coverage was better without commentary of punditry, following Gary Lineker's suspension for politicised tweeting and a boycott by other stars
A tweet saying BBC football coverage was better without commentary of punditry, following Gary Lineker's suspension for politicised tweeting and a boycott by other stars
The legend that was Brian Clough couldn't have put it any better.— BitOfCommonSense 🇬🇧 💎 (@BitOfCommonSen1) March 13, 2023
Best Match Of The Day I've seen and mainly because it's not a load drivel nobody wants to listen to.
Leave "pundits" (if that's what we're calling them) off Match of the day https://t.co/jCH161X2f0
In another politicised tweet on Monday, Lineker thanked his colleagues at BBC Sport for their support over "a surreal few days" — before comparing his situation to the plight of war refugees.
© Gary Lineker/TwitterA tweet by former England footballer and BBC Match of the Day presenter Gary Lineker comparing his one-day suspension to the plight of war refugees
A tweet by former England footballer and BBC Match of the Day presenter Gary Lineker comparing his one-day suspension to the plight of war refugees
Davie's own impartiality has been called into question after it emerged he helped secure a large private personal loan for former Prime Minister Boris Johnson, under whose government he was appointed.
Several Conservative MPs had called for Lineker, who rakes in £1.35 million a year from TV license-payers for his weekly appearance, to be sacked outright.
Home Secretary Suella Braverman — who launched the Illegal Migration Bill in Parliament last Tuesday, whose parents are immigrants and whose husband is Jewish — called Lineker's comments "disappointing".
But the announcement of the review raises questions on whether BBC News journalists and Westminster pundits would soon be allowed to express their personal political opinions as Lineker has done on many previous occasions.