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September 29, 2020updated 30 Sep 2022 9:38am

New BBC director-general threatens to suspend staff Twitter accounts if not impartial enough

By Charlotte Tobitt

The BBC’s new director-general has said the corporation could force its talent to leave Twitter if they are not sufficiently politically impartial when using the social media platform.

Tim Davie said BBC staff could be asked to suspend their Twitter accounts if they do not meet standards in “imminent” new social media guidelines due to be published within the next few weeks.

Speaking to MPs at the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee this morning, Davie said the guidelines will contain “very clear” enforcement policies.

“Where we are able to take disciplinary action, where we are able to take people off Twitter,” he said. “I know people want to see hard action on this.”

Asked for clarification on what taking people “off” Twitter means, Davie said that “if they want to work for the BBC” staff could be told to suspend their accounts.

Davie also said he was “prepared to take the appropriate disciplinary action all the way to termination” for those who breach impartiality rules.

On the other end of the scale, sometimes someone “just needs a talking to”, he said.

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Davie said news and current affairs would have a “high bar” for impartiality but that there would be a certain standard expected of all BBC staff.

He later added: “I don’t think this is about banning people on social media, by the way. We must be out 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 I think over time that’s what the BBC must do and it will be more distinctive for it.”

Davie told MPs he had been prompted to clamp down on social media use as the media is a “tough environment” for anyone who cares about impartiality right now.

“Everyone’s got views,” he said. “The quickest way to get followers is to do something controversial and I think the pressure on everyone and journalists and people in the public eye to go for the extreme and push partial views is very real.

“You can see that across the media landscape. That’s clearly something that Ofcom needs to think about in terms of navigating the course here…

“I don’t want to speak for the staff but I think this is well supported across the BBC and I think that what I needed to do was say that we have had a few tweets and a few incidents where people frankly just by virtue of things like retweeting or just what they’ve said in my mind have not furthered the BBC’s reputation for impartiality.”

In his inaugural speech to BBC staff earlier this month, Davie set out firm expectations for them to appear to be free from political bias.

He said: “If you want to be an opinionated columnist or a partisan campaigner on social media then that is a valid choice, but you should not be working at the BBC.”

Picture: PA Wire/PA Images/Andrew Milligan

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