The BBC has published revised guidance on the personal use of social media for everyone working at the U.K. public broadcaster, including emphasizing that hosts of flagship shows can “not endorse nor attack political parties” or “campaign by proxy” by “posting frequently on a range of issues that resemble one party’s manifesto and presents sustained criticism to a government or opposition policy agenda.” The update, unveiled on Thursday, comes after a controversy about a post by sports pundit Gary Lineker on Twitter/X.
The broadcaster said its new list of rules “focuses on everyone working for the BBC respecting ‘high standards of civility in public discourse’ and not bringing the organization into disrepute.” It follows a review by former TV executive John Hardie, which looked at the BBC’s guidance covering “individual use of social media.”
The debate about Lineker put the BBC into crisis mode. The on-air star had used social media to comment on the U.K. government’s crackdown on boats bringing migrants across the English Channel from France. “We take far fewer refugees than other major European countries,” Lineker wrote in a reaction. “This is just an immeasurably cruel policy directed at the most vulnerable people in language that is not dissimilar to that used by Germany in the 30s.” The BBC pulled Lineker from his soccer host duties.
BBC director-general Tim Davie then ordered a review. For that, Hardie spoke to more than 80 people, both inside and outside the BBC. “The BBC should set a new mission to promote civility in public discourse, and insist that all those who present BBC programs should respect diversity of opinion and exemplify the BBC’s ethos of civility on social media,” he said in his conclusions published on Thursday.
Informed by Hardie’s review, the BBC has updated its social media guidance for staff and freelancers, which was first published in the fall of 2020. This now includes specific guidance for those presenting “Flagship Programs.” The BBC said the updated guidance “balances freedom of expression, the responsibilities of freelancers to the BBC and the expectations of audiences, while also ensuring our rules are clear, simple, transparent, and enforceable.”
Here are key elements:
“Those working in news and current affairs (across all divisions) and factual journalism production, along with all senior leaders, have a particular responsibility to uphold the BBC’s impartiality through their actions on social media and so must abide by the strictest rules on impartiality,” the new guidelines state.
“Those presenting flagship programs on the BBC carry a particular responsibility to respect the BBC’s impartiality because of their profile on the BBC,” the Hardie report also emphasizes. “This responsibility extends to their use of social media, during the periods when these flagship programs are on air, and for a two-week window before and after the transmission of each series they present.”
Other BBC staff or freelancers are “not required to uphold the BBC’s impartiality through their actions on social media,” according to the revised guidelines. “They are however required to respect civility in public discourse and to not bring the BBC into disrepute.”
The report highlighted that “there are no examples of broadcasters we have found demanding an explicit
prohibition on taking sides on party political issues or political controversies for nonnews presenters,” adding: “European broadcasters often look to the BBC as a role model for upholding standards of impartiality.”