Gary Lineker, host of the BBC’s Match of the Day programme, has been embroiled in a row with the BBC over impartiality after tweeting that the language used to launch the UK government’s asylum policy echoed that of 1930s Germany. The BBC announced that Lineker would take a break from presenting the highlights programme until an “agreed and clear position” on his use of social media had been reached. In response, former England footballers and MOTD regulars announced they would boycott the show in solidarity with Lineker, and the next day several of the show’s commentators also stepped down from their roles.
Gary Lineker is no stranger to controversy, having openly discussed his pro-EU views on Twitter, despite BBC rules stating that presenters should remain impartial on all political issues. The BBC Trust received several complaints following his tweets, but the watchdog cleared Lineker of any wrongdoing, stating that “it was not apparent from his tweets that he was endorsing a particular political party or campaigning on a particular policy.”
However, this most recent controversy has caused more uproar, with some accusing the BBC of censorship and others defending Lineker’s right to free speech. The row has prompted calls for the BBC to clarify its social media policy for presenters, with some arguing that allowing presenters to express their opinions is an important part of journalistic integrity, while others believe it is inappropriate for presenters on a publicly-funded broadcaster to express their political opinions.
Whatever the outcome of this dispute, it is clear that social media has introduced new challenges for broadcasters and journalists in maintaining impartiality and credibility. With news and opinions now available in a 24/7 cycle, and with social media platforms providing instant access to a global audience, the line between public and private opinions is becoming increasingly blurred. As such, it is vital that broadcasters and journalists have clear guidelines on how to navigate these challenges in the digital age.