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Gary Lineker, the highest-paid TV host at the BBC, has been reinstated. Last week, the U.K. public broadcaster pulled him from presenting soccer show Match of the Day after he criticized the British government’s refugee and asylum policy on Twitter.
The BBC — which had been under severe pressure since the situation erupted — announced Monday that he would return as Match of the Day host, adding that it would launch an independent review on its existing social media guidance.
Lineker, a former soccer star and popular personality, remained off-air during negotiations about how he can use his social media presence without breaking the public broadcaster’s journalistic impartiality code. With many other pundits and hosts showing their solidarity with Lineker and refusing to appear for BBC work, the broadcaster’s weekend sports programming ended up in disarray.
The situation, which dominated news reports in the U.K., also shone an uncomfortable light on the political leanings of the BBC’s top brass, with its chair Richard Sharp having been a major donor to the Conservative Party and currently being investigated over a loan he reportedly helped secure for former Prime Minister Boris Johnson (who appointed him), and Director-General Tim Davie having stood as a councillor for the Conservative Party.
“Everyone recognizes this has been a difficult period for staff, contributors, presenters and, most importantly, our audiences. I apologise for this,” said Davie in announcing Lineker’s return. “The potential confusion caused by the grey areas of the BBC’s social media guidance that was introduced in 2020 is recognised. I want to get matters resolved and our sport content back on air.”
Davie added: “Impartiality is important to the BBC. It is also important to the public. The BBC has a commitment to impartiality in its Charter and a commitment to freedom of expression. That is a difficult balancing act to get right where people are subject to different contracts and on air positions, and with different audience and social media profiles. The BBC’s social media guidance is designed to help manage these sometimes difficult challenges and I am aware there is a need to ensure that the guidance is up to this task. It should be clear, proportionate, and appropriate.”
Davie said the review — led by an independent expert reporting to the BBC — would have a particularly focus on how the BBC’s social media guidance “applies to freelancers outside news and current affairs.”
The news follows a statement Friday that said the BBC and Lineker and his representatives were in “extensive discussions.”
Over the weekend, it had emerged that the BBC wanted Lineker to return to the air, while he didn’t want to apologize for his comment. “We have said that we consider his recent social media activity to be a breach of our guidelines,” the BBC had noted last week.
An opinion poll by research firm YouGov last week found that 46 to 33 percent of Brits said that the BBC’s sports correspondents should be free to publicly air their political views on non-BBC platforms, such as social media. Voters of the governing Conservative Party, however, tend to disagree, with 55 percent saying hosts should keep their political views private, it found.
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