BBC Unveils Detailed Social Media Rules For Staff; Forces Presenters To Disclose Paid Speaking Gigs

Tim Davie
BBC director general Tim Davie BBC

The BBC has published extensive guidelines on how its staff should be conducting themselves on social media amid fears that tweeting could be tarnishing the corporation’s strict code of impartiality.

In an email to staff on Thursday, BBC director general Tim Davie set out the new guidelines, which include a detailed list of online dos and don’ts, after he previously warned that workers and on-screen talent could be fired for breaking the new rules. The guiding principles are as follows:

  • Always behave professionally, treating others with respect and courtesy at all times
  • Don’t bring the BBC into disrepute
  • If your work requires you to maintain your impartiality, don’t express a personal opinion on matters of public policy, politics, or controversial subjects
  • Don’t criticize your colleagues in public. Respect the privacy of the workplace and the confidentiality of internal announcements

The update follows some of the BBC’s biggest stars, such as its highest-paid presenter Gary Lineker, expressing their political leanings on Twitter as they have not been subject to the same impartiality rules as journalists.

The detailed rules (which can be found in full here) include employees being explicitly banned from being drawn into “ill-tempered exchanges,” revealing how they vote, breaking news on a personal account, virtue signaling, and supporting online campaigns. Things “to do” include treating others with respect, correcting inaccuracies quickly, and exercising caution when posting in private groups.

The BBC added that disclaimers on social media accounts, such as “my views, not the BBC’s,” won’t wash. It also urged staff to think about what their likes, shares, retweets, use of hashtags, and people they follow say about their own personal opinions. “Use of emojis can – accidentally, or deliberately – undercut an otherwise impartial post,” the BBC added.

The rules cover everyone who works for the BBC, especially journalists, but does not extend to “actors, dramatists, comedians, musicians and pundits” who work on output for the corporation. The rules warn that a breach “may lead to disciplinary action” up to and including termination in serious cases.

“Impartiality is the foundation on which we deliver insightful, exciting and ground-breaking stories. These guidelines are intended to help us continue to deliver this, and build audience trust,” Davie said in his email.

Furthermore, the BBC is going to compel staff to disclose paid speaking and events gigs every quarter from 2021. Workers will also need to go through an approval process if they want to take on outside engagements.

It follows controversy after executives and presenters have been paid big fees for events that could present a conflict of interest. BBC News’ editorial director Kamal Ahmed had to apologize after being paid £12,000 to address an Aberdeen Standard Investments hedge fund event, while the BBC’s North America Editor John Sopel spoke at tobacco giant Philip Morris International’s staff conference last year.

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