The BBC has been plunged into crisis after its highest paid anchor has been accused of breaching the broadcaster’s impartiality rules for the second time in less than a year.
Variety understands that BBC director general Tim Davie and head of content Charlotte Moore “dropped everything” on Monday to have an urgent meeting about “Match of the Day” host Gary Lineker’s retweet of a post urging FIFA and the International Olympic Committee to ban Israel from football tournaments.
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A BBC spokesperson denied that Davie and Moore had cleared their schedules to discuss the bubbling controversy and declined to confirm whether they had met.
“The Palestinian Football Association calls on @iocmedia, @FIFAcom and all regional and int’l sports bodies to take an urgent stance on Israel’s grave violations of human rights and subject it to legal accountability measures,” read the tweet, which was originally posted by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott.
Lineker, who has reportedly been dubbed the “Tucker Carlson of the U.K.” by colleagues for his polemical social media presence, is said to have breached the broadcaster’s impartiality guidelines by retweeting the post, which he subsequently deleted.
Under the BBC’s social media rules – introduced last September after Lineker was briefly suspended for posting about the U.K.’s immigration policy — presenters of BBC’s flagship shows, which explicitly include “Match of the Day,” are expected to remain impartial on political issues during the period when their programs are on air, as well as a two-week period before and after.
Those working on factual journalism production across all divisions are also expected to follow the social media guidelines. “Do not support campaigns, (eg. by using hashtags) no matter how apparently worthy the cause or how much their message appears to be accepted or uncontroversial,” the guidelines state. “Avoid ‘virtue signalling’ – reposts, likes or joining online campaigns to indicate a personal view, no matter how apparently worthy the cause.”
“Everyone working for the BBC” is also urged to “take particular care when commenting on the issues that provoke the greatest debate.”
The BBC declined to comment but a source told Variety: “No guidelines were broken but we agreed it was right to delete the tweet.”
Lineker, a football player turned commentator, has published almost 50,000 tweets on X (formerly known as Twitter) since joining the platform in 2012, often wading into controversial topics. He banks £1.35 million ($1.74 million) a year from the corporation, making him its highest-earning star. He also worked for Qatar-owned broadcaster Al Jazeera between 2009 and 2013, for which he was reportedly paid £1.6 million.
The latest furore kicked off on Saturday when Lineker retweeted the post calling for a boycott, which included screenshots urging football association FIFA and the International Olympics Committee to ban the Jewish country from participating in future football games.
After a number of U.K. MPs suggested that Lineker – who is currently on air presenting “Match of the Day” — had breached the BBC’s impartiality rules, the anchor quietly deleted the retweet.
The social media guidelines state: “If you know you’ve got something wrong, do correct it quickly and openly, generally by linking or referring to the original post rather than deleting it.”
British newspapers including The Telegraph were subsequently briefed by a source that Lineker had “misunderstood” the post and had thought he was retweeting a news report about the country being banned from tournaments rather than a call to action. Variety understands the BBC has accepted this explanation. The guidelines state: “Do not link to anything you haven’t read fully.”
A source tells Variety that Davie and Moore spent “the whole day” on Monday discussing the matter. Despite this, the BBC has yet to publicly respond to the controversy and the broadcaster’s inertia has frustrated both current and former employees.
“It seems very clear that Gary Lineker has breached the BBC’s impartiality guidelines, this time in relation to the specific area on which he presents for the BBC,” said Danny Cohen, former head of BBC television. “The message he reposted supports the racist boycott movement against Israel and the reference to genocide is deeply offensive to the Jewish community. Deleting the post after it has been shared with millions of people does not solve the problem. The BBC’s senior management should act immediately. If they choose not to do so they are proving again to be willfully blind to issues of bias and antisemitism within the corporation.”
A current BBC employee, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal, told Variety that senior management’s failure to hold Lineker to account “makes them look moronic.”
Moore’s silence is seen as particularly damning in light of the fact she is the BBC’s new executive sponsor for the corporation’s nascent Jewish Staff Network, which Variety can reveal is in the process of being set up following the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel. Among the network’s draft aims are to “help support the BBC in taking a leading role against antisemitism in the national conversation.”
“Her staying quiet sends the wrong message,” says the BBC employee.
Part of the BBC’s reticence to act over Lineker is believed to stem from its previous attempts to discipline him last year over a tweet about the U.K.’s immigration policy which saw him briefly suspended from broadcasting last March. He was reinstated three days later after his co-hosts walked off in a show of solidarity, causing “Match of the Day” to air without commentary.
Sources tell Variety the BBC is worried about another mutiny if they attempt to sanction the host, who has presented “Match of the Day” for almost 30 years. “[They’re scared that] if they sack him then other BBC Sports staff will also walk,” a source, who was not authorized to speak on the record, said.
A walkout in the department would be all the more critical with the Euros, the European football championship, just months away.
After the last Lineker crisis, the BBC said it would hold a review of its social media policy, particularly in relation to freelance presenters on flagship shows. When the new guidance was published last September, Lineker tweeted he thought it was “very sensible.”
In November, longtime BBC radio anchor Carol Vorderman said she’d been sacked by the corporation for breaching the new impartiality guidelines with her social media posts.
A rep for Lineker did not respond by press time.
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