The BBC has formalised rules that give its highest-paid presenter, Gary Lineker, more freedom to tweet opinions on topical issues than any of the corporation’s news and current affairs staff.
The updated BBC editorial guidelines, published last week, provide formal guidance on staff use of social media for the first time, putting verbal norms into writing for employees. The guidelines were last revised in 2010.
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BBC staff are also told in the new document that disclaimers in Twitter biographies like “my views not the BBC’s” would not give them any defence against posts that may conflict with BBC guidelines.
Previous guidelines said only that a similar disclaimer that retweets do not signify endorsement “may not be enough”.
BBC editorial staff and anyone who identifies “as being linked with the BBC”, have now been formally told that sharing their opinions online or in the press could “compromise the BBC’s impartiality” and “damage its reputation”.
“The risk is greater where the public expressions of opinion overlap with the area of the individual’s work,” the guidelines state.
“The risk is lower where an individual is expressing views publicly on an unrelated area, for example, a sports or science presenter expressing views on politics or the arts.”
This qualification appears to refer to Match of the Day presenter Lineker (pictured), who regularly tweets about his opposition to Brexit and his support for a second referendum on EU membership.
In December, BBC cricket correspondent Jonathan Agnew asked Lineker to “please observe BBC editorial guidelines and keep your political views, whatever they are and whatever the subject, to yourself”.
“I’d be sacked if I followed your example,” he added.
Lineker has the highest salary (paid for by the licence fee) among BBC on-air talent, earning about £1.75m in 2018/19 for his work which also consisted of presenting Sports Personality of the Year and the BBC’s football world cup coverage.
On Twitter today he said the BBC’s guidelines “always allowed for comments/views on social media, apart than those that work in news and current affairs”.
A BBC spokesperson said: “We’ve always said that a sports presenter is able to express a political view in a way that a BBC journalist can’t, and the editorial guidelines make this clear.”
The guidelines state that “BBC staff should avoid bringing the BBC into disrepute through their actions on social media,” the latest guidance adds, saying staff must “take particular care” to maintain the BBC’s impartiality online in both their professional and personal activities.
They also discuss the importance of robust checks to avoid repeating misinformation or rumours when getting information from social media.
The privacy of those featured – potentially without their knowledge – in material taken from social media should be considered before its reuse on the BBC, particularly when in relation to “tragic, humiliating or distressing” events, it said.
Director general Lord Tony Hall said the guidelines fit into a “media landscape that’s changed dramatically since the last set was devised”.
“It’s just a few short years since the term ‘fake news’ entered our lexicon. It’s now a weapon of choice used worldwide. In a world of misinformation, our values have never been more important.
“That’s why accuracy, impartiality and fairness are given such prominence in these guidelines. It’s also why they have been updated to include all that we do on social media.”
Picture: Action Images via Reuters / Carl Recine Livepic