Freedom of Speech Case – What Did Gary Lineker do Wrong?
No one can have failed to notice that Gary Lineker has been in a spot of bother with the Beeb. Last week he posted a comment on Twitter about the Government’s new Illegal Migration Bill. His tweet said the policy was “immeasurably cruel”.
Gary was told to apologise for his tweets otherwise he would be prevented from presenting Match of the Day. He refused and was taken off air.
Whether you agree with him or not the bigger issue in play was about freedom of speech and freedom of expression and whether the tweets brought the BBC into a political issue when they are required to be politically neutral.
What was encouraging to see was the solidarity shown by fellow BBC sports presenters in walking off air in protest. Gary’s lucky to have all the right friends in high places. If he was just any employee, he might easily have been sacked for his conduct.
Gary Lineker is not an employee of the BBC, he’s a freelancer. However the BBC employee guidelines about remaining impartial on political matters and being required to follow strict social media guidelines do apply to him.
Most companies now have social media policies in place. These can be far-reaching. If you haven’t checked those of your employer lately, it would be wise to do so as this could impact your freedom of speech rights. There’ve been a number of employment cases around this concerning derogatory comments on Facebook.
In British Waterways Board v Smith an employee commented on Facebook about how he hated his work and the “nasty horrible human beings who run it”. He was dismissed and the Tribunal held his dismissal was fair. In Ward v Marston’s PLC an employee called his area manager a C***. His dismissal was fair. In Trasler v B&Q a dismissal was held to be unfair when an employee commented that his place of work was a “f***ing joke.” It was unreasonable of the employer to find that the comments threatened the business. The employee showed no remorse for his actions which led to a 50% reduction in his compensation.
Talks have led to his reinstatement as Match of the Day presenter and the BBC has announced that it will review its social media guidelines.
Time for you to look at your policy if you are employed and to polish yours and police it if you are an employer?