By Charlotte McLaughlin and Connie Evans, PA
The director-general at the BBC, Tim Davie, has announced a review into social media guidelines as he recognised “the potential confusion caused by the grey areas” of the guidance, following the recent impartiality row over a tweet by Gary Lineker
Mr Davie said the 62-year-old Match Of The Day presenter, who was taken off air last week for a tweet comparing the language used to launch a new Government asylum seeker policy to that of 1930s Germany, will “abide by the editorial guidelines” until a review has taken place.
After becoming director-general in 2020, Mr Davie spoke to staff about their use of social media and guidelines were updated.
Ahead of the recently announced review, we look at what we know so far and how the review may be conducted based on the 2020 update.
Statement from BBC Director-General Tim Davie regarding Gary Lineker
— BBC Press Office (@bbcpress) March 13, 2023
Who will lead the review?
The BBC has said the probe with be led by an independent expert, who will shortly be announced and will report to the corporation.
The BBC is yet to confirm when the review will begin and how long it is expected to take.
What will it look at?
While announcing the review, Mr Davie acknowledged that the corporation must be impartial but also has a “a commitment to freedom of expression” which creates a “difficult balancing act” due to differences in staff contracts, whether they are on-air or off-air, and the differences in audiences and social media profiles.
As a freelance broadcaster for the BBC, Lineker is not a permanent member of staff, nor is he responsible for news or political content, so in accordance with the current guidelines he is not subject to same rules on impartiality as permanent employees.
Due to the lack of clarity that has been highlighted by the impartiality row, Mr Davie confirmed that the forthcoming review will have a “particular focus” on how guidelines apply to “freelancers outside news and current affairs”.
He also confirmed that while the review is taking place “the BBC’s current social media guidance remains in place”.
– What happened following the 2020 review?
Following the review in October 2020 and the issuing of new social media guidelines for BBC staff, the corporation told its employees they must not bring the corporation “into disrepute” with their use of social media.
The directives were said to apply to “everyone working at the BBC whether they are using social media professionally or personally”, and instructed staff to refrain from criticising colleagues in public and “respect the privacy of the workplace and the confidentiality of internal announcements”.
Another rule stated: “If your work requires you to maintain your impartiality, don’t express a personal opinion on matters of public policy, politics, or ‘controversial subjects’.”
The new guidance also made specific references to the public use of emojis and ‘virtue signalling’ including retweets and likes.
–What are the current social media guidelines?
The BBC’s editorial guidelines on individual use of social media state that the corporation has formulated the guidance “for those who use social media for professional purposes and for some aspects of personal use”.
The BBC says that the guidance “is not intended to prevent the use of social media but to ensure that anyone working for the BBC uses it with appropriate regard for the BBC’s values”.
The guidelines state the following rules apply for all personal and professional social media accounts belonging to BBC colleagues, including employees, contractors and freelancers:
“Always behave professionally, treating others with respect and courtesy at all times: follow the BBC’s values, and don’t bring the BBC into disrepute.”
The guidelines go on to instruct: “If your work requires you to maintain your impartiality, don’t express a personal opinion on matters of public policy, politics, or ‘controversial subjects’ and don’t criticise your colleagues in public.
“Respect the privacy of the workplace and the confidentiality of internal announcements.”
Who do the current guidelines apply to?
According to the BBC’s editorial guidelines on individual use of social media, the rules apply to “all colleagues using social media for both work and personal purposes”.
The guidance goes on to add: “Additionally for some roles at the BBC, personal social media activity must also comply with the BBC editorial guidelines as though it were BBC output including: Individuals who work in news and current affairs (across all divisions) or factual journalism production and all senior leaders in any area of the BBC Group.”
The guidelines also offer further clarification on who is not necessarily subject to adhere to the guidelines in their entirety, saying: “The extent to which a non-staff member, contributor or presenter is required to comply with the editorial guidelines will be set out in the BBC’s contractual relationship with them.
“It is generally expected that irregular or occasional contributors would not be required to apply the full requirements of the editorial guidelines to their social media use.
“Actors, dramatists, comedians, musicians and pundits who work for the BBC are not subject to the requirements of impartiality on social media.”
Further information from the BBC on the social media review is expected in due course.