Home   News   Article

BBC storm: 'The mood among my former BBC colleagues is mutinous after management came down like a ton of bricks on Gary Lineker while issue with chairman Richard Sharp remains unresolved'





As Match of the Day presenter Gary Lineker prepares to return to BBC TV screens this weekend after reaching a deal with the corporation over his controversial Twitter comments, and the Beeb announces an independent review of its social media guidelines, focusing on how it applies to freelancers outside news like Lineker, a former BBC journalist who lives in Bishop's Stortford gives their view...

I worked at the BBC for three decades, mainly as a journalist in the national news division. From the very start, back in the bygone days of Beta video and reel-to-reel audio tape, we were told to keep our opinions to ourselves and leave our private views at the BBC’s revolving doors.

When the digital age dawned, a more complex conundrum emerged: how to engage publicly with people on the new social media platforms while not bringing the BBC into disrepute.

Leicester City fan Gary Lineker (centre) in the stands during their 3-1 defeat to Chelsea in the Premier League at the King Power Stadium on Saturday.
Leicester City fan Gary Lineker (centre) in the stands during their 3-1 defeat to Chelsea in the Premier League at the King Power Stadium on Saturday.

Although BBC management never banned news journalists from social media, the warnings were clear: do not put any personal views out there that could compromise BBC impartiality in any way.

As BBC News journalists, we could never be seen to be on one side of the political divide or the other; personal comment on politically sensitive issues were (and are) not allowed. It’s a policy that meant I had literally no real freedom to voice my opinions throughout my entire career.

Every tweet I wrote was self-censored before I posted. I recused myself from public protests and demonstrations. I never commented publicly on any of the contentious issues that have arisen throughout my adult lifetime. Don’t weep for me; I was paid to be impartial, and working for the BBC was the time of my life in many respects. But it took its toll.

The BBC decided on Friday to stand Gary Lineker down from presenting Match of the Day on Saturday night, prompting a boycott by pundits and commentators. Picture: Mike Egerton/PA
The BBC decided on Friday to stand Gary Lineker down from presenting Match of the Day on Saturday night, prompting a boycott by pundits and commentators. Picture: Mike Egerton/PA

Here’s the rub though. The rules that govern the news division always were (and still are) stricter than those that apply elsewhere in the corporation.

Gary Lineker has commented on other issues such as Conservative MPs voting to dump sewage in our seas as late as this January, so it’s a moot point whether or not Gary Lineker’s boat migrants tweet breached the BBC’s social media guidelines for high-profile non-news presenters. The rules as they stand are frankly woolly, imprecise and BBC managers need to get a grip.

But let’s also consider this: Lord Sugar tweeted his support for Boris Johnson before the December 2019 General Election and yet the last time I looked he was still fronting The Apprentice, which Sawbridgeworth salon owner Dani Donovan is still in with a chance of winning. How does that work?

The Gary Lineker debacle also comes amid continuing scrutiny of BBC chairman Richard Sharp, a former £400,000 donor to the Conservative Party who is the subject of an ongoing inquiry into his appointment and the circumstances surrounding an £800,000 loan guarantee for Johnson when he was Prime Minister.

As a result, the mood among my former BBC colleagues, who are striving as I did to uphold the corporation’s standards of impartiality, is by all accounts mutinous.

Why did BBC management come down like a ton of bricks on Gary Lineker while the Sharp problem remains unresolved? The optics are terrible. The corporation looks like it’s running scared and bowing to political pressure.

Over the years, the BBC has come under fire from both Labour and Conservative Governments. Gary Lineker’s tweet is not the most serious threat the BBC has faced in its 100-year history. But there’s no doubt the BBC is in peril.

Anti-BBC rhetoric is on the rise, aided and abetted by certain sections of the media and a hostile political environment.

Personally, I wish the BBC well. I hope it continues as a powerful cultural force for good in our country despite the huge pressures it faces, not least from a fragmenting media landscape.

I loved working for the BBC but I fear the coming storm.



This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies - Learn More