Former ITN boss to conduct BBC social media review after Lineker row

ITN’s former chief executive and editor-in-chief John Hardie will lead the independent review into the BBC’s social media guidance for freelancers following the impartiality row with Gary Lineker.

The BBC said the review will start immediately and it is expected to be completed by the summer, with any changes to then be published.

It comes after Lineker was taken off air by the BBC after posting a tweet in which he said the language used by the Government to promote its asylum plans was not dissimilar to 1930s Germany.

He later returned to his Match Of The Day presenting role following a boycott by top on-air talent.

BBC Director General
Tim Davie (Andrew Milligan/PA)

BBC director-general Tim Davie said he recognised “grey areas” in the broadcaster’s social media guidance could cause “confusion” and announced an independent review of the guidelines, particularly for freelancers.

In a statement on Friday, Mr Davie said: “The BBC has important commitments to both impartiality and to freedom of expression. We also have a commitment to those working with us, and for us, to be clear in what we expect from them.

“The social media guidance is crucial to achieving this, particularly in a fast-paced, ever-changing world of digital media.

“This review will ensure this guidance is clear, proportionate and appropriate – now and in the future.”

During the review, Mr Hardie will look at the broadcaster’s guidance covering “individual use of social media”, which was first published in October 2020, for those working as “on-air freelancers outside of news, current affairs and factual journalism”.

The BBC has said the review will consider “how the BBC applies its guidance, considering the BBC’s charter commitments to both impartiality and freedom of expression”.

It also stated any future guidance must be “easy to understand, practical and deliverable”.

Mr Hardie said: “I am very pleased to have been asked to conduct this review. I approach the task with no preconceptions and an open mind.

“I look forward to hearing from a wide range of voices, from both inside and outside the BBC, as the work progresses.”

Mr Hardie acted for nearly a decade as chief executive and editor-in-chief of the media conglomerate ITN.

He was also previously the executive vice president at Walt Disney and served as the chair of the Royal Television Society.

The BBC has said that while the review is being undertaken, their existing social media guidance will remain in place.

Some have suggested freelancers should have to abide by impartiality rules, including the BBC’s former director-general Lord Birt who argued that he did not think it was “legitimate and right” that a BBC presenter like Lineker of “such an important programme should opine”.

Meanwhile, others have said the opposite with Greg Dyke, the BBC director-general between 2000 and 2004 and a former FA chairman, stating the precedent at the corporation is that “news and current affairs employees are expected to be impartial and not the rest”.

“If you start applying the rules of news and current affairs to everybody who works for the BBC, where does it end?” he previously said.