BBC stars will not be blocked from sharing political opinions despite Lineker row

High-profile presenters have a 'particular responsibility' to respect the broadcaster's impartiality


BARCELONA, SPAIN - MAY 14: Gary Linker is seen presenting for LaLigaTV prior to the LaLiga Santander match between RCD Espanyol and FC Barcelona at RCDE Stadium on May 14, 2023 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

BBC stars will not be blocked from expressing political views under new rules devised after Gary Lineker sparked a row by comparing the government's language to that of the Nazis.

A report published today says high-profile presenters such as the Match of The Day host have a "particular responsibility" to respect the broadcaster's impartiality because of their prominent position.

While freedom of expression is important, it concludes, while a programme is on air and for a two-week window before and after, its presenters must not endorse or attack a political party.

Those fronting a "flagship" show will not be able to criticise the character of an individual politician in the UK, or take up an official role for a campaigning group.

During an election period, they will be blocked from commenting on any issue of political debate.

BBC employees working on news and current affairs are already subject to stricter rules governing what they are allowed to say.

The new rules were created following a message posted by Lineker on X/Twitter condemning Home Secretary Suella Braverman when she said Britain needed to stop small boat migration.

He wrote: "There is no huge influx. We take far fewer refugees than other major European countries.

"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, and I’m out of order?"

Braverman attacked the former England striker in response, claiming that his statement “diminishes the unspeakable tragedy” of the Shoah.

“My children are therefore directly descended from people who were murdered in gas chambers during the Holocaust,” she told the BBC.

"My husband’s family feels very keenly the impact of the Holocaust actually."

Agnes Grunwald-Spier, a Shoah survivor and Holocaust Educational Trust trustee, said Lineker should be "ashamed" of his comments and that he needed to study the Nazi genocide.

Conservative party deputy chairman Lee Anderson added: “This is just another example of how out of touch these overpaid stars are with the voting public.

“Instead of lecturing, Mr Lineker should stick to reading out the football scores and flogging crisps.”

Lineker was temporarily removed from his role on Match of The Day, but reinstated following a backlash from his fellow sports presenters.

He responded to news of the new rules with a post of X that read: "All very sensible."

The full list of high-profile presenters potentially affected by the corporation's new rules includes Zoe Ball, Vernon Kay and Scott Mills, as well as programmes including Antiques Roadshow, The One Show, and major sporting events.

Lord Alan Sugar, who will be subject to the new rules as the presenter of The Apprentice, has previously sparked criticism himself over political statements.

In 2018, the Jewish businessman deleted a tweet that depicted Jeremy Corbyn sitting next to Adolf Hitler after backlash.

Speaking to the BBC's Culture and Media editor Katie Razzall, former ITN boss John Hardie, who conducted a review into BBC social media guidelines, said: "The previous guidance said to not take sides on issues which are party political or political controversies.

"And this new approach says, you can do that, so long as you stay to the facts of the issue itself. So that is actually a significant change...

"In the future, it's easier for the BBC to be able to say if they're challenged by somebody who has made a social media post, to say [either], that clearly is dealing with the issue and the facts, or it's clear that they're making an attack on an individual.

"And I think that separation will make this more practical for the BBC in the future."

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