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Tim Davie: BBC boss ‘prepared to fire stars who break impartiality rules’

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BBC director general Tim Davie has said he would be prepared to sack presenters who make major breaches of impartiality guidelines on social media.

Mr Davie, who became DG earlier this month, said new social media rules would be announced in the coming weeks, and would apply to all staff.

“I am prepared to take the appropriate disciplinary action, all the way to termination,” Mr Davie said.

He said he would also be able “to take people off Twitter” if necessary.

His comments come after criticism of stars such as Gary Lineker, who has courted controversy in the past for sharing his political views on Twitter.

‘Hard action’

“Enforcement actions will be very clear, we will be able to take disciplinary action, we’ll be able to take people off Twitter. I know people want to see hard action on this,” Mr Davie said.

Pressed on how people could be removed from Twitter, he clarified that in some cases he would ask staff to suspend their Twitter accounts if they wanted to continue working for the BBC.

Speaking to MPs on the House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee, he said he wouldn’t rush into far-reaching action. “I know some people would like me to fire [people] immediately [when] there is a foot fault,” he said.

“I’m sure over your career and my career, sometimes we have not acted perfectly. So there will be a range of enforcements. Sometimes someone just needs a talking to. Other times there will be more serious matters.”

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Gary Lineker has been criticised for sharing his political views on Twitter

The action taken would not depend on the stature of the star involved, but there would be a distinction between occasional contributors and those who are “the face of the BBC”, he said.

“Social media guidelines will make clear where the lines are. If someone is a face of the BBC, I think entering into partial party politics seems to me not the right place to be.”

Asked specifically about Lineker, Mr Davie said: “We will issue the social media guidelines which will be clear. I would note that Gary Lineker has been very clear in his statements recently, saying, ‘I understand I have responsibilities while working at the BBC’.

“Those responsibilities will be clearly laid out. I am the director general so I am now running the show, and in my view, party political statements are not the right thing for people to be making if they are part of an impartial news organisation.”

Lineker’s ‘flavoursome’ tweets

He continued: “Gary’s always got a flavoursome turn of phrase. Judge us now as the BBC on what we tweet and how we tweet. I think Gary’s been very clear – he’s not concerned by it, but he’s said he understands his responsibilities as a person within the BBC. I’ll be making that even clearer as I go through my social media guidelines.”

In the past, there have been “a few tweets and a few incidents” from BBC staff and presenters that “in my mind have not furthered the BBC’s reputation for impartiality”, Mr Davie said.

A review of the social media behaviour of staff has been conducted by the corporations’ former director of global news Richard Sambrook.

That review has fed into the new social media guidelines, which will set out rules for news and current affairs, plus for other areas of BBC programming, Mr Davie said.

“The bar will be higher for news and current affairs, but there will also be a bar for those people working as BBC talent across the organisation, across genres,” he said.

“I don’t think this is about banning people on social media by the way. We must be up there. I passionately believe that impartial reporting can be flavoursome. The idea that it’s dull is wrong.

“Actually the pursuit of truth and looking at evidence – you don’t have to be a partial voice. It may not get you immediately as many followers, but over time I think that’s what the BBC must do and it will be more distinctive for it.”

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