Gary Lineker seemed to break rules, next BBC chairman says

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By Graeme Baker

BBC News

Gary Lineker breached the BBC’s social media rules in tweets about Tory MPs during a row about the government’s Rwanda policy, the candidate to be corporation chairman believes.

Samir Shah told MPs that he defended the right to freedom of speech but such rows damaged the BBC’s reputation.

He said the sports presenter’s replies on X “seem to breach” rules against attacking individuals.

The BBC said that it does not comment on individuals or individual tweets.

MPs on the Culture Media and Sport Committee were questioning Dr Shah ahead of his confirmation as BBC chairman after he was named as the government’s choice following Richard Sharp’s resignation in April.

Although the BBC is independent, the chairperson is appointed by the government.

Lineker, 63, added his name to an open letter opposing the government’s plan to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda.

That sparked criticism from Tory MPs, including Defence Secretary Grant Shapps, party deputy chairman Lee Anderson, and Jonathan Gullis, who accused him of breaching impartiality and complained to the corporation.

The Match of the Day presenter later said on X that he would “put a word in” for Mr Anderson when he lost his seat at the next general election, criticised Mr Shapps use of several names in business dealings and said Mr Gullis “hasn’t read the new guidelines… or, should I say, had someone read them to him?”

The row follows previous complaints about Lineker’s social media activities, which led to a review of guidelines conducted by the former editor-in-chief of ITN, John Hardie.

Dr Shah told the committee that he didn’t think that the row “was very helpful either for Gary Lineker or the BBC or the cause he supports because it becomes a story about Gary Lineker and the BBC.”

“Non-news presenters are free to express their opinions but there is some guidance on civility, manner, and not to make ad hominem attacks,” he said.

“So as far as I am aware, the signing of the letter did not breach those guidelines.”

However, he said that “the more recent tweet (where) Mr Lineker identified two politicians does on the face of it seem to breach those particular guidelines”.

“I’m not sure how egregious it is but it does. I would imagine the BBC is now looking at that and considering its response.”

Lineker maintains that his social media posts are within the BBC’s guidelines.

Gary Lineker was briefly suspended by the BBC earlier this year for tweets about government asylum policy

Dr Shah, 71, said that he may possibly ask for another review of the social media guidelines if he was appointed.

He said that the BBC needed to “think in terms of whether we have the balance right between freedom of expression and impartiality”.

While it was very clear when it comes to news and current affairs, “there is this grey area within which Mr Lineker sits”.

“And I share your frustration. I would invite the director general to find a solution because we really need to find a solution.

“It’s a perfectly proper thing for the board to ask the executive whether the new guidelines have achieved their intention. It may well be that they may need to review it again.”

The updated social media guidelines, introduced in September, stress the importance of “high standards of civility in public discourse”, which includes treating others with respect, even in the face of abuse and not using offensive or aggressive language.

They ask for those who work for the BBC to “respect civility in public discourse and to not bring the BBC into disrepute”.

A spokesman for the BBC declined to comment specifically on Dr Shah’s comments to the select committee.

“While the guidance does allow people to talk about issues that matter to them, it is also clear that individuals should be civil and not call into question anyone’s character,” he said.

“We discuss issues that arise with presenters as necessary.”