BBC director-general Tim Davie has said Laura Kuenssberg conducted herself in an “exemplary fashion” during her new politics show, where comedian Joe Lycett appeared to sarcastically praise the new Prime Minister Liz Truss.
The first episode of the BBC’s Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg made headlines after the stand-up jokingly claimed during the programme he was “very right-wing” and that he felt “reassured” following Truss’ live interview in the studio.
Discussing impartiality within the BBC during a Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee meeting on Tuesday, Mr Davie said he did not think having Mr Lycett booked for the show displayed “BBC bias in the slightest” as he felt “the audience saw it for what it was”.
He said: “We can debate exactly what you debated about whether it was the right booking, but what I will say is Laura conducted herself, as the BBC host, I thought in an exemplary fashion in a slightly difficult situation. We move on.”
Mr Davie added: “I don’t think it displays BBC bias in the slightest. The audience saw it for what it was”, later describing it as “bemusing”.
Birmingham-born Lycett, who appeared on the programme before Ms Truss was announced as Boris Johnson’s successor, has become known for performing a number of public stunts in recent years to raise awareness of issues such as single-use plastic.
The comedian also fronts Channel 4’s consumer rights show, Joe Lycett’s Got Your Back, where he takes on large corporations on behalf of the consumer.
Reflecting on the impartiality of the BBC’s content as a whole, Mr Davie said: “We do have hundreds of thousands of hours of output… and overall, I think we are delivering well, I do think that and it’s important that we’re proportional about this.”
A committee member also spoke about how sports pundit Gary Lineker, one of the BBC’s highest earners, has on occasion voiced his opinion on political matters on social media.
Mr Davie said he has had discussions with Mr Lineker over the years about him following BBC impartiality guidelines and feels he has made a “massive improvement to where he was a few years ago”.
“I’m very supportive of Gary, I think he’s a brilliant presenter, and I think it is work in progress in terms of where he draws the line, but we’ve had a good conversation, I think he understands the guidelines,” Mr Davie said.
In 2020 new guidelines were set out, alongside training, aiming to “ensure the highest possible standards of impartiality” among staff at the broadcaster as it clamped down on presenters’ use of social media.
The editorial guidelines for staff state clearly that “nothing should appear on their social media accounts which undermines the integrity or impartiality of the BBC”.
They further add that employees should not disclose publicly how they vote or express support for any political party, and also say that staff should not “advocate any particular position on a matter of public policy, political or industrial controversy, or any other ‘controversial subject’”.