“After a surreal few days, I’m delighted that we have navigated a way through this,” Lineker tweeted on Monday.
The director general of the BBC, Tim Davie, apologized and said the broadcaster would launch an independent review of its social media guidelines, with a focus on freelancers, like Lineker.
“Everyone recognises this has been a difficult period for staff, contributors, presenters and, most importantly, our audiences. I apologise for this,” he said.
The taxpayer-funded BBC is one of Britain’s most trusted media organizations. Davie made it clear from the start of his tenure that he wanted to double down on impartiality and introduced new rules around social media shortly after he joined.
But many questioned whether those rules also applied to freelancers and employees who work outside of news and current affairs. Others pointed to what appeared to be inconsistencies, cases in which other BBC presenters had expressed their views online and not been suspended or disciplined. A YouGov poll over the weekend found a majority of Britons thought it was wrong for the BBC to suspend Lineker.
Critics also pointed out that Richard Sharp, chairman of the BBC board, is being investigated for his role in securing a loan of $966,000 for former prime minister Boris Johnson. Sharp was appointed to his BBC role in 2021 on the recommendation of the government, which Johnson led at the time.
Many other media organizations, including The Washington Post, have wrestled with how to respond when employees express views and opinions on social media.
Lineker’s show, “Match of the Day,” presents highlights of Premier League soccer games. Before he was the BBC’s highest-paid presenter — he earned $1.6 million in 2022 — he was a celebrated soccer star, having played for several top teams and for the English national team, scoring 48 goals in 80 matches for his country.
The storm clouds descended last Tuesday after Lineker sent a tweet from his account, which has over 8 million followers, about the government’s immigration policy:
“This is just an immeasurably cruel policy directed at the most vulnerable people in language that is not dissimilar to that used by Germany in the 30s, and I’m out of order?”
His remarks were criticized by several Conservative lawmakers, including the British Home Secretary Suella Braverman who said it was “unhelpful to compare our measures, which are lawful, proportionate and – indeed – compassionate, to 1930s Germany.”
The British government is proposing new laws that would expel almost all of the asylum seekers arriving in small boats across the English Channel.
Lineker’s tweet has got far more attention than the migration policy itself, which some parts of the government may not have minded after the United Nations’ refugee agency said it is “very concerned” about the legality of Britain’s proposals.
Rasmus Nielsen, director of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at Oxford University, said it was striking just how much attention the story has received in the country.
“The news media in this country are strongly committed to idea of covering BBC, particularly when they see the BBC has fallen short. The BBC is an important and powerful institution and important to hold it to account. Daily Mail has shown an energetic commitment to that over many years,” he said.
He added that research his university has done has found a majority of people think that news reporters should not express opinions on social media, but a large minority said they were fine with it.
“But it’s important to stress that people aren’t idiots. We have no research to suggest that the public have the same expectations for retired footballers presenting a sports show than they do a political reporter at Westminster.”
Lineker has previously taken refugees into his home and has spoken out before on migrants’ rights and other political issues.
But after the furor last week, the BBC announced on Friday he would be stepping back from his presenting duties. Several colleagues at the BBC walked off in solidarity, leaving the BBC’s weekend sports coverage in disarray.
Asked by the BBC on Monday whether Lineker agreed to stop tweeting about politics, Davie said that the host would “abide by the editorial guidelines” while the review of the BBC’s social media policy takes place.
For his part, Lineker said Davie had “an almost impossible job keeping everybody happy, particularly in the area of impartiality. I am delighted that we’ll continue to fight the good fight, together.”
He added: “However difficult the last few days have been, it simply doesn’t compare to having to flee your home from persecution or war to seek refuge in a land far away.”