The BBC has received a blunt warning that new social media guidelines for its top stars will erode the corporation’s founding principle of political neutrality.
The review of the rules was sparked in March, following a row around Gary Lineker’s tweets about the Government’s immigration policy.
The work by John Hardie, a former TV executive drafted in by Tim Davie after the Lineker furore, sets out comprehensive guidance around BBC employees’ social media use.
While the corporation will hope to spin the new rules as a sensible compromise between protecting BBC impartiality and freedom of speech of its employees, there is already significant political backlash as Tory MPs argue it gives enormous leeway to stars like Gary Lineker to carry on tweeting about controversial political topics.
Mr Hardie writes that high-profile presenters outside of explicit news programming “should be able to express views on issues and policies – including matters of political contention”.
However they must stop “well short of campaigning in party politics or for activist organisations”.
The review explicitly says that strict impartiality rules for BBC journalists and news staff should not extend automatically to non-news freelancers.
Conservatives swiftly slammed the new guidance, saying it represents a “total victory” for the likes of Carol Vorderman and Gary Lineker, who this afternoon tweeted his support for the recommendations.
Tom Hunt, deputy chairman of the Common Sense Group of Tory MPs, said he has “real concerns” about the new rules, not least because BBC stars have a platform as a result of their taxpayer-funded jobs.
Red Wall MP Brendan Clarke-Smith warned: “This is effectively open season for presenters to say what they like, when they like, regardless of the nature of the programme they present. Other than explicitly saying ‘vote for Labour’ they don’t appear to have any restrictions at all”.
Jonathan Gullis told the Express that the new rules further prove that the BBC is “no longer impartial”, and said it once again underlines the case to scrap the licence fee.
“We see the M25 bubble’s disdainful view of Brexit, the virtue signalling on illegal migrants coming from France, and the shameful opportunistic attempt to shut down a competitor in GB News, despite the BBC’s own shameful past.”
Fellow Red Wall MP Marco Longhi demanded that the BBC reconsiders the new social media rules, and warned failure to do will “ensure that the funding mechanism for the BBC will be sorely contested”.
Lincoln MP Karl McCartney said that the rules will “open up a political ‘free for all’”.
“Allowing presenters to express political views is a really bad move strategically that I can see will not end well for either the BBC nor the individual presenters themselves, who are paid a great deal by the collective taxpayers of the UK.”
Paul Bristow joined his fellow Tories in blasting the rules, warning: “Match of the Day is not Question Time”.
“The last thing the public wants when watching the footie are pundits pontificating about Brexit or trans rights. The same goes for Gardeners’ World, Antiques Road Show and Cash in the Attic.
“They should do what they are paid to do and leave politics at the door.”
The review also set out how entitled Gen Z BBC staff now threaten the future of the broadcaster’s impartiality, as they feel they have a right to “live out their views and identity on social media”.
Mr Hardie said that political debates around “lived experience” are seen as topics younger members of staff feel they have a right to post views about on social media.
He said such topics include incredibly controversial areas including “racial equality, gender identity, nationalism, migration, environmentalism”.
The review’s focus groups found that audiences are concerned when presenters like Gary Lineker or Carol Vorderman “engage in the most divisive issues”.
59 percent of their respondents thought non-news presenters should be held to the same standards as news presenters when it comes to speaking about political issues.
One BBC journalist cited in the review slammed the likes of Mr Lineker, saying it makes their job “much harder when high profile BBC people are mouthing off opinions about the politicians just when I am trying to scrutinise their policies”.
Another accused such outspoken BBC stars of placing their need to express controversial views above “their love for the organisation” and view the corporation’s neutral reputation as “disposable”.