Ofcom chief hopes BBC finds way through Gary Lineker ‘difficult episode’

Ofcom Chief Executive Dame Melanie Dawes (left) and Gary Lineker Credit: PA

The head of Ofcom has said the BBC needs to weigh freedom of expression with reputation for impartiality when reviewing its social media guidelines following the “difficult episode” with pundit Gary Lineker.

The Match Of The Day (MOTD) presenter, 62, was taken off air after a tweet about asylum seeker policy sparked an impartiality row at the BBC and a boycott by several regular pundits and commentators.

On Monday, BBC director-general Tim Davie apologised for “the potential confusion caused by the grey areas of the BBC’s social media guidance” and confirmed a review of the guidance was being undertaken.

Ofcom chief executive Dame Melanie Dawes said during a Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee meeting: “It hasn’t been a great weekend for BBC Sport fans and I think we are all glad to see that, hopefully, the BBC is moving beyond this episode.

Gary Lineker presents Match Of The Day for the BBC. Credit: PA

“But clearly an episode like this goes straight to the heart of that wider reputation beyond their news and current affairs coverage.

“I think they need to do what they’re doing, which is to look at those guidelines and see whether they’re still right in a world of increasing use of social media, and look again at what they ask of contributors, as well as their staff.”

She added: “I think it’s been a really difficult episode for the BBC and I hope they can find their way through it, it looks like they have agreed for the moment a way forward.”

Dame Melanie said the BBC’s social media guidelines are not a matter for media watchdog Ofcom but for the broadcaster’s board to “draw that line” in order to safeguard the BBC’s reputation.

She said: “I think they’re right to look at it again. There is ambiguity in there. I think that was probably designed to give a degree of flexibility.

“I think it’s fair to say that it didn’t achieve what they wanted."

Dame Melanie said the impartiality row with Lineker will not play into the licence fee debate, confirming a “new operating licence” for the BBC will be published next week.

The report will include details regarding the BBC’s local radio cuts, which were announced in October as part of its new strategy to create a “modern, digital-led” broadcaster.

Although the BBC's Match of the Day crisis appears to have largely calmed, on Tuesday, Lineker questioned Twitter owner Elon Musk after a threatening message regarding the row was sent to his son.

During the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee meeting, Dame Melanie refused to answer questions about how the BBC can operate with a chairman who is “so compromised”, referring to BBC chairman Richard Sharp after it was revealed he had helped former prime minister Boris Johnson secure an £800,000 loan facility.

She later refused to answer questions relating to impartiality in the case of broadcaster Fiona Bruce who was accused of trivialising domestic violence during a discussion about Stanley Johnson while hosting BBC’s Question Time.

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know...