BBC names head of review after Lineker social media row

FILE PHOTO: A man stands by a camera outside the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) headquarters in London, Britain, March 13, 2023. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls/File Photo

LONDON (Reuters) -Britain's BBC on Friday named former television executive John Hardie to review its social media guidance for freelancers, after a row over impartiality involving its highest paid presenter Gary Lineker.

The BBC, which has a mandate to be neutral, temporarily suspended Lineker this month for criticising the government's immigration policy. When he was reinstated, the BBC said it would review how sport and other non-news presenters use social media to express their personal opinions.

The review will start immediately and is expected to be completed by the summer, the broadcaster said, with any changes to the guidance to be published. In the meantime, the existing guidance remains in place.

Hardie, a former CEO and editor-in-chief of ITN and an executive vice president at Walt Disney, has not worked for the BBC.

"The BBC has important commitments to both impartiality and to freedom of expression. We also have a commitment to those working with us, and for us, to be clear in what we expect from them," BBC Director-General Tim Davie said in a statement.

"The social media guidance is crucial to achieving this ... This review will ensure this guidance is clear, proportionate and appropriate - now and in the future."

The suspension of Lineker, a former England soccer captain, caused chaos at the broadcaster as many of his colleagues walked-out in solidarity, forcing it to axe most of its scheduled sports coverage.

Critics had said Lineker's suspension showed that the BBC was bowing to pressure from the government.

The review will include looking at which freelancers are covered by the guidance and what impartiality requirements should apply to them, as the BBC seeks to navigate an increasingly polarised debate in Britain over everything from trans rights to immigration and colonial history.

The heightened scrutiny of BBC impartiality comes as its chairman Richard Sharp is under pressure for failing to declare he facilitated a loan for former prime minister Boris Johnson shortly before he was appointed to the role by the government.

Sharp has denied any wrongdoing but has apologised for not declaring his involvement in the loan ahead of his appointment.

(Reporting by Sarah Young and Muvija M; Editing by Kylie MacLellan and Alison Williams)

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