BBC updates social media rules for star presenters like Gary Lineker

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s BBC said its top stars such as Gary Lineker could opine on political issues on social media but must stop short of campaigning, in new guidelines prompted by a row over the sports presenter’s comments about immigration policy earlier this year.

Lineker, host of “Match of the Day” and the BBC’s highest paid star, was taken off air in March after he said the language used by the government about immigration was not dissimilar to that used by Germany in the 1930s.

He was reinstated after a public backlash and near mutiny at the broadcaster, which has struggled to balance impartiality with its employees’ ability to speak to millions of people on social media platforms.

The guidelines published on Thursday create a new category of presenters of flagship television and radio programmes, such as “Antiques Roadshow”, “Strictly Come Dancing”, “Masterchef” and the Radio 1 and Radio 2 Breakfast Shows, who will face tighter rules.

They will not be allowed to endorse or attack a political party, or criticise the character of individual politicians, the BBC said, but they will be free to express opinions about issues that matter to them.

Lineker said on X, formerly know as Twitter, that the new guidelines were “very sensible”.

The BBC’s journalists and others working in news and current affairs will continue to have to abide by the strictest rules on impartiality, the guidance said.

Other BBC staff or freelancers will not be required to uphold the BBC’s impartiality, but they must be civil and not bring the broadcaster into disrepute. 

Former TV executive John Hardie, who reviewed the rules, 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.”

(Reporting by Paul Sandle; Editing by Alison Williams)