BBC issues revised social media rules for presenters

"The British public expect BBC non-news presenters to maintain high standards on social media and respect an appropriate balance between impartiality and freedom of expression."

The BBC has issued a revised set of social media guidelines for its presenters following a political tweet by star soccer player turned sports pundit Gary Lineker.

Linker had commented on the U.K. government’s controversial Illegal Migration Bill, describing it as an “immeasurably cruel policy directed at the most vulnerable people in language that is not dissimilar to that used by Germany in the 30s.”

BBC commissioned a review by former TV executive John Hardie, which looked at the corporation’s guidance covering “individual use of social media” in relation to those working as on-air freelancers outside of news, current affairs and factual journalism.

The review comes at a time when ABC has been drawn into headlines around use of social media by presenters, including a number of gruelling sessions for ABC Managing Director David Anderson before Senate Estimates.

Setting out his BBC recommendations, the UK’s Hardie says “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”.

He adds it’s “appropriate to set the highest expectations for social media conduct of the main presenters of its flagship brands and craft specific, proportionate guidance for them”.

Hardie says: “It is clear that the British public expect BBC non-news presenters to maintain high standards on social media and respect an appropriate balance between impartiality and freedom of expression. It is timely for the BBC to clarify where that balance lies.”

Alongside the updated guidance, the BBC has published a list of its Flagship Programmes and the presenters connected to them. This list will be kept under review.

Flagship Programmes have been identified due to their regular, high audience reach and because they have been on the BBC for a significant period of time. The guidance applies to the main presenter or presenters, not to other contributors or guests.

The new guidance recognises the importance of freedom of expression and is clear freelancers are free to talk about the issues that matter to them, including issues that are the subject of public and political debate.

In line with the BBC’s commitment to impartiality, the guidance also sets out that while the programme is on air and for a two-week window before and after the series, presenters working on Flagship Programmes must not:

  • Endorse or attack a political party (including parties in government or opposition).
  • Criticise the character of individual politicians in the UK.
  • Comment on any issue that is a matter of political debate during the election period for UK general elections and referendums in any part of the UK.
  • Take up an official role in campaigning groups or become involved in fundraising for campaigning.

The guidance for encouraging civilised public debate on social media – which covers anyone working for the BBC – states:

  • Do treat others with respect, even in the face of abuse.
  • Do not use offensive or aggressive language and do conduct yourself with courtesy.
  • Do take particular care when commenting on the issues that provoke the greatest debate.
  • Do not attack individuals, even when you disagree with their views.
  • Do be careful with rebuttals – they can feed conflict
    Do not criticise your colleagues in public. Respect the privacy of the workplace and the confidentiality of internal announcements
  • Do not be drawn into ill-tempered exchanges, or exchanges that will reflect badly on you, or the BBC.
  • Do not promote law breaking

BBC Director-General Tim Davie says: “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.”

He added, “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.”

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