Gary Lineker row goes to heart of BBC reputation – Ofcom bosson March 14, 2023 at 2:27 pm

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The regulator’s boss says it is right the BBC is reviewing its social media guidelines after the row.

Gary Lineker walking outside his home with members of the press behind himImage source, Reuters

The BBC impartiality row with Gary Lineker goes “straight to the heart” of the broadcaster’s wider reputation, Ofcom’s chief executive has said.

Dame Melanie Dawes told MPs it “hasn’t been a great weekend” for BBC Sport fans after coverage was pulled off air.

She told a committee she hoped the BBC could move beyond this episode.

Lineker will return to Match of the Day after he was taken off air over a tweet criticising the government’s new asylum policy.

BBC director general Tim Davie said an independent review of social media guidelines would be carried out and he denied accusations that the BBC had backed down.

Speaking to the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee on Tuesday, Dame Melanie said: “Clearly an episode like this goes straight to the heart of that wider reputation beyond their news and current affairs coverage.”

She told MPs it was right the BBC was reviewing its social media guidelines, adding: “There is ambiguity in there, I think that was probably designed to give a degree of flexibility… but it didn’t achieve what they wanted.”

She said there needed to be “very strict rules” for news presenters, but said it was a “slightly different question” when it comes to other contributors, including freelancers and actors.

“I think they need to be weighing freedom of expression alongside the wider reputation they have for impartiality,” she said.

“It is for the BBC board to safeguard the reputation of the BBC, including for impartiality, and to weigh all that in the balance.”

She added that she didn’t think it would be “straightforward” and that Ofcom, which is the BBC’s regulator, has no role in setting internal guidelines but can offer advice.

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The row began last week when, in a tweet, Lineker said the government’s new Illegal Migration Bill was an “immeasurably cruel policy” and said the language used around it was “not dissimilar to that used by Germany in the 30s”.

His words were criticised by Conservative ministers, including the home secretary.

Lineker was told on Friday to step back from presenting Match of the Day until an agreement was reached, triggering an unprecedented wave of walkouts from fellow pundits and commentators in solidarity.

In the wake of the row, Lineker has questioned Twitter owner Elon Musk after a threatening message was sent to his eldest son, George, which said he should be “burned at the stake” for his public support of his father.

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