The BBC has once again got itself into a mess over its inconsistent enforcement of its impartiality guidelines. The Gary Lineker row is an act of profound self-harm.

In recent days, the corporation hasn’t shown itself to be a paragon of fairness and balance, rather, a bunch of amateurs who don’t understand their own rules and processes.

By being so heavy-handed in its daft attempts to stop one of its top presenters offending the government, they’ve brought Gary Lineker’s words to the attention of a much larger audience than would have otherwise been the case.

The BBC could have saved themselves a lot of hassle by just giving Lineker his own slot on the six o’clock news to deliver a speech on the wicked intolerance of the UK government and their deplorable treatment of the some of the most vulnerable members of our society.

There have been days of rolling news coverage about the BBC’s decision to suspend Lineker for a tweet in which he criticised the government’s inhumane Illegal Migration Bill.

Much of this coverage came from the BBC itself: so we were treated to the truly farcical sight of BBC news presenters telling viewers that they had approached themselves for comment.

This isn’t the first time Lineker has fallen foul of the BBC’s strict social media policies. But why is it that he is targeted for censure when other BBC presenters are not?

I don’t know if BBC bosses have taken a gander at Alan Sugar’s Twitter account lately. He doesn’t hide his political views – it just so happens that they often align with government policy. Is that why he’s been spared a similar public scolding?

The BBC needs to get a grip and stop becoming the story through these self-enforced errors. We would all agree that balance and impartiality is a noble aim for a national broadcaster.

That’s not something that can be achieved by obsessing over the minute detail of the social media pages of its non-news contributors. The fact Lineker is a hate-figure for right-wing Tory lads doesn’t mean that his every utterance should be subjected to the BBC’s fair and impartial test.

The BBC has faced criticism and ridicule over this whole debacle and rightly so. When the dust settles, there will be a golden opportunity to examine what balanced broadcasting would really look like in practice. It is a goal that – if achieved – would inspire trust in the fairness and impartiality of the whole system of news creation and news reporting at the BBC.

But in recent years in particular, “balance” looks increasingly as though it has become nothing more than a tick box exercise.

Achieving balance across a news organisation as vast as the BBC requires a lightness of touch that is often found lacking in its national news programming in particular.

Balance doesn’t mean inviting a climate change denier on a programme to debate a scientist.

Balance isn’t offering a platform to racists and cranks, so that the racist and crank demographic feel adequately represented.

Balance isn’t getting members of a former prime minister’s family on the news so they can explain how his intentions were good, even if his behaviour was grotesque.

On BBC Question Time last week, panellist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown was speaking about reports that Boris Johnson plans to nominate his father for a knighthood.

She went on to describe Stanley Johnson as a “wife-beater” and said his alleged history of violence was “on the record”.

At this point, Question Time host Fiona Bruce interjected and said “just so everyone knows what this is referring to, Stanley Johnson’s wife spoke to a journalist, Tom Bower, and she said that Stanley Johnson had broken her nose and that she’d ended up in hospital as a result.

“Stanley Johnson has not commented publicly on that. Friends of his have said it did happen – but it was a one-off.’’

It should go without saying that using the language of “one-off” to describe allegations of domestic abuse is hugely irresponsible. It minimises the violent act described, and it shows a lack of understanding of the power dynamics at play in abusive relationships.

Bruce has faced a backlash for her comment and Women’s Aid released a statement saying that domestic abuse is “rarely, if ever, a one-off, with the vast majority of abuse being a pattern of behaviour that includes different forms of abuse.”

This is a perfect example of the BBC’s tendency towards heavy-handedness. It would have been better to let the debate play out without intervention, just as it would have been better to let Gary Lineker say whatever he likes about the government on his own social media channels.

In its strive for balance the BBC keeps missing the mark, and such clumsy attempts end up having the opposite of the intended effect.