The BBC has updated its social media guidelines to include a strengthened “Lineker clause”, in an attempt to stop high-profile presenters expressing strong views on party politics.
Gary Lineker almost brought down the BBC director general, Tim Davie, earlier this year when he refused to apologise for tweets about the language used by the home secretary, Suella Braverman, to describe asylum seekers. Davie suspended Lineker, only to reinstate him after a staff rebellion.
Although the BBC has strict rules governing the social media use of employees in its news division, the rules for other staff members were much more relaxed.
After an extensive review lasting most of the year, the BBC has now created a third category, which snares Lineker and a small number of other freelance presenters who work on the BBC’s “flagship programmes”.
The small number of presenters in this category will have their ability to share political views severely restricted while their BBC programme is on air. They will also have to stay quiet on party politics for a two-week period before and after the series has been broadcast.
The full list of BBC programmes and the presenters affected by the new rules are:
Antiques Roadshow – Fiona Bruce
The Apprentice – Lord Sugar
Dragons’ Den – Evan Davis
The One Show – Alex Jones
Presenters of major events, such as sporting events
MasterChef – John Torode and Gregg Wallace
Match of the Day – Gary Lineker and Mark Chapman
Strictly Come Dancing – Tess Daly and Claudia Winkleman
Top Gear’s current presenters
Radio 1 – Greg James
Radio 2 – Zoë Ball, Vernon Kay and Scott Mills
These presenters will be banned from endorsing or criticising a political party, criticising the character of individual politicians in the UK, commenting on any issue that is a matter of political debate during an election period, and taking up an official role assisting or fundraising for campaigning groups.
They will be free to engage in such activity when their programmes are off air – suggesting Lineker could have to limit his more forthright political activity to the summer, when the football season is over.
Lineker responded to the announcement of the new rules by declaring them “all very sensible”.
The BBC already had a rule, internally called the “Lineker clause”, which put extra requirements on high-profile presenters, but the new system explicitly names individual presenters who have to be especially careful.
Lineker is the BBC’s highest-paid presenter but works for the corporation as a freelance employee, balancing presenting Match of the Day with his other work commitments.
The new rules could cause problems for Lord Sugar, who is a serving member of the House of Lords and often shares forthright views on politics.
Last month Lineker told the Guardian that the BBC was too scared of its critics: “We don’t sell ourselves well enough and we end up fearful of everybody. We seem be scared of the people that actually want to defund the BBC. They will always want to defund the BBC regardless of what the BBC does. Ignore them! Ignore them and concentrate on the people who love the BBC.”
He also talked about whether he intended to continue presenting Match of the Day, which he has hosted since 1999: “I’ve got a couple of years left on my contract, I’m 62, who knows where football will be then.”
He also said he would consider any offers from a streaming company. “Of course I’d entertain that. I’d listen. I love Match of the Day, I’ve done it for a long time. If something changes, it changes. It’s hypothetical at the moment.”
The former ITN executive John Hardie conducted the review. He 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.”
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