Football: BBC tells England great Gary Lineker to zip it politically, slashes his £1.75 million annual contract by 23%

LONDON (Reuters) – The BBC’s top-earning personality, Gary Lineker, has agreed to use social media responsibly and taken a pay-cut as the British broadcaster’s new boss seeks to maintain trust in the body, whose publicly-funded model has been questioned by Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

New BBC director-general Tim Davie told staff not to air political views on social media when he started the job earlier this month, and on Tuesday (Sept 15) said new guidelines on social media would be published in the coming weeks.

Former England great Lineker has attracted scrutiny from the broadcaster’s critics for both his high pay package and his outspoken political views on social media that often criticised the ruling government.

Davie said the ex-Tottenham striker understood his social media responsibilities in agreeing a new five-year contract, which will see him take a 23 per cent pay cut.

“Impartiality is the bedrock of the BBC. It’s utterly critical that looking forward people have total trust in the BBC.

“When you join the BBC, you know, you leave your party politics at the door.”

Lineker was paid around £1.75 million (S$3.06 million), the BBC’s annual report in the financial year to March 31 showed on Tuesday, making him its highest-paid personality.

Lineker’s pay cut comes as the organisation’s bosses also seek to cut headcount among senior management. The number of senior managers earning over £150,000 rose to over 100, the annual report showed, and BBC chairman David Clementi said that the coronavirus crisis meant that the broadcaster had to save an extra £125 million.

The BBC’s operations and income has been severely impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, but provided a boost to streaming on its online offering, BBC iPlayer.

The financial year ended on March 31, as the COVID-19 crisis began, but iPlayer had 1 billion requests in the first seven weeks of lockdown, a 60 per cent increase on the previous year, helped by the drama Normal People.

It received 16.2 million requests in its first eight days – the biggest drama launch on BBC iPlayer ever.

The BBC added it had made continued progress on closing the gender pay gap, with a 55:45 split for men and women paid over £150,000, compared to a 75:25 gap in 2016-17.

The gender pay gap is now 6.2 per cent, from 6.7 per cent last year.

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