BBC flagship presenters banned from attacks on political parties

Gary Lineker is among those banned from attacking political parties (Mike Egerton/PA)
Gary Lineker is among those banned from attacking political parties (Mike Egerton/PA)

Flagship presenters including Match Of The Day host Gary Lineker have been banned from making attacks on political parties.

It comes in a review into the corporation’s social media guidelines after Lineker compared the language used by the Conservative Government to promote its asylum plans to 1930s Germany in a post on Twitter, sparking an impartiality row.

The new rules also affect Strictly Come Dancing hosts Tess Daly and Claudia Winkleman, The Apprentice’s Lord Alan Sugar and Antiques Roadshow’s Fiona Bruce, as well as Dragons’ Den’s Evan Davis, MasterChef hosts John Torode and Gregg Wallace and The One Show’s Alex Jones.

Tess Daly and Claudia Winkleman
Tess Daly and Claudia Winkleman have also been named as flagship programme presenters (Guy Levy/BBC/PA)

Radio presenters Greg James, Zoe Ball, Vernon Kay and Scott Mills were also named as presenters of flagship programmes, but the full list will be “kept under review”, the broadcaster said.

The corporation said the guidance does not include contributors, pundits, judges or guest hosts but does apply to presenters of major sporting events and Top Gear – which is currently not in production.

The guidance states presenters cannot endorse or attack a political party, criticise the character of individual politicians in the UK, comment on political debate during a UK general election or referendum, or take up an official role in campaigning groups while the programme is on air and for a two-week window before and after the series.

A review of the BBC’s social media guidelines, conducted by former ITN boss John Hardie, comes after former England striker Lineker was suspended from the broadcaster for his tweet, but later returned following a boycott by top on-air talent.

Lineker described the BBC’s updated social media guidance as “all very sensible” on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Meanwhile, former head of editorial policy at the BBC, Richard Ayre said on BBC News: “The fact that Gary Lineker has welcomed these guidelines tells you quite a lot about what Gary thinks about them.

“I think that he must believe that they empower him to say pretty much what he has already said.

“In other words, when he said six months ago in criticising Government policy that the language used by the Government was reminiscent of that of Germany in the 1930s, I don’t see anything in the new guidelines which will stop him from saying that again.

“I think that would now be acceptable to the BBC.”

Mr Ayre added: “I suspect Gary will feel able to continue to say the sort of things he said before, I think it probably is a win for Gary Lineker, that doesn’t mean it’s wrong for the BBC because it is a recognition that the people who work for it do have lives of their own.”

BBC Broadcasting House
The BBC has updated its social media guidance (Nicholas.T.Ansell/PA)

Mr Hardie spoke to more than 80 people, both inside and outside the BBC as part of the review.

Setting out his recommendations, he said: “High-profile presenters outside of journalism should be able to express views on issues and policies – including matters of political contention – but stop well short of campaigning in party politics or for activist organisations”.

While BBC director-general Tim Davie said: “We all have a responsibility to treat people with civility and respect, particularly at a time when public debate and discussion, both on and offline, can be so polarised.

“The BBC also has important commitments to both freedom of expression and impartiality – and this rightly extends to social media.

“I would, therefore, like to thank John Hardie, and all those who took part in this review, for such a thorough, clear and considered report.

“Clarity on how those working for the BBC use social media is not only important for them and the organisation, but also for our audiences.

“The new guidance, which includes new requirements for presenters of our flagship programmes, is both proportionate and fair and protects these commitments.”

The BBC said the specific guidance for flagship programmes “recognises the importance of freedom of expression” and is in addition to the existing impartiality guidance for individuals working in news and current affairs and factual journalism production, which remains the same.

However, freelancers and BBC staff who do not fall into that category or present a flagship show, such as actors, dramatists, comedians, musicians and pundits do not fall under the new social media rules on impartiality but “must not bring the BBC into disrepute”.