Gary Lineker, the BBC’s highest-paid on-air star, broke the public broadcaster’s impartiality rules with a tweet in February about the U.K. Conservative Party, the corporation has ruled.
The offending tweet was in reference to a comment published alongside an article reporting on then-Foreign Secretary Liz Truss’ call for Premier League teams to boycott the Champions League final in Russia if they reached it. The tweet was published on the eve of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Lineker asked: “And her party will hand back their donations from Russian donors?”
According to the BBC’s Executive Complaints Unit (ECU), the tweet “did not meet the BBC’s editorial standards on impartiality.” It held that the ex-footballer turned TV presenter had an “additional responsibility” to uphold the broadcaster’s expectation to be impartial given his high-level status.
Lineker is a frequent tweeter with 8.6 million followers who has had a long-held assumption that he is not subject to the same impartiality rules that the broadcaster’s journalists are contracted to uphold.
Responding to a user in 2012 questioning his conduct on Twitter, Lineker said: “No, I don’t have to be impartial. Go follow someone you like. Bye.”
In 2014, replying to Sir Alan Sugar, Lineker claimed: “No impartiality on Twitter. Or BBC for that matter. It’s football not politics.”
And more recently, in January of this year, Lineker wrote: “The BBC has tens of thousands of people that work for it, with a huge cross section of views. The corporation doesn’t think as one. There’s no political criteria from above other than impartiality in news and current affairs.”
Despite Lineker’s reported protestations that he had been commenting on an article about football, his area of expertise, and that he had framed his tweet in the form of a question, the ECU concluded that the post still fell foul of the publicly funded broadcaster’s editorial standards on impartiality. The unit did accept that Lineker should not be subject to the highest standard of impartiality as required by staff members reporting on news and current affairs.
The former England striker declined to comment on the decision.