BBC forces Gary Lineker to step down from presenting ‘Match of the Day’
The presenter of the BBC’s most popular sports program was forced to “resign” from his duties on Friday over recent tweets in which he compared the British government’s rhetoric on immigration to the rhetoric of Nazi Germany. The public broadcaster said it considers Gary Lineker’s “recent social media activity a violation of our policies.”
The game of the day Host, who works as a freelancer, found himself at the center of a political storm after he was surrounded by several senior ministers earlier this week for speaking out on social media.
He reacted to the government’s recent strategy aimed at halting small boat crossings in the English Channel by telling his 8.7million followers on Twitter that the policy was “immeasurably cruel”. The language spoken about migrants, wrote the former England international, is “not dissimilar to that used in Germany in the 1930s”.
The BBC issued a statement on Friday saying it had decided Lineker would “step down” from presenting game of the day “until we have an agreed and clear position on his use of social media.”
Lineker declined to comment.
The saga exposes the controversy over the government’s plans to deny asylum to anyone it believes entered the country illegally. The proposed legislation, which the government has acknowledged may violate human rights laws, is an important part of its promise to “stop the boats”.
But the case also underscores the strains on the BBC’s long-changing concept of political impartiality.
Tim Davie, the channel’s general manager, has prioritized a higher level of impartiality. Upon his arrival in September 2020, he told staff: “If you want to be a wayward columnist or a partisan social media activist then that’s a good choice, but you shouldn’t be working at the BBC.”
People who have worked with Davie said his thinking was influenced by the context of his arrival as management prepared to negotiate the BBC’s next funding deal with the Conservative government. A person advising Davie at the time said: “We were basically seen as Remoans after the referendum campaign. Given that we had a full-fledged Brexit government at the time, he thought we needed to fix that.”
A little over two years later, the BBC is embroiled in controversy over its management’s closeness to the ruling party. Inquiries are underway into the appointment of leader Richard Sharp, who was recommended for the role by Boris Johnson shortly after he helped the then Prime Minister arrange a loan of up to £800,000.
A Labor Party source said: “The BBC’s cowardly decision to take Gary Lineker off the air is an attack on freedom of expression in the face of political pressure.”
Lineker’s personal politics are no secret; He is “the king of centrist fathers,” said a senior BBC editor. He was reprimanded in October 2022 for tweeting about the Conservative Party’s relationship with Russian donors.
Until 1990 the BBC had no obligation to be impartial. That year Margaret Thatcher’s government introduced a principle known as “due impartiality”. The concept is intended to avoid incorrect weightings and give journalists space to defend basic democratic principles.
At the time, the late Government Secretary, Lord Ferrers, told the House of Lords that “stricter rules on impartiality might require, for example, that Pol Pot’s murderous regime be defended by an alternative view”.
The ‘duty’ of impartiality should also allow the BBC not to have to apply it to all programmes. But by 2010, an update to editorial guidelines concluded that due impartiality applied “to all of our results and services.” The latest guidelines, issued in 2019, included a social media section that also covered freelancers.
Due impartiality binds some BBC staff more than others. For example, BBC journalists have been asked not to attend Pride marches in Northern Ireland, where LGBT+ rights are more controversial than in the UK.
Staff in sports and cultural programs face less onerous restrictions. Lineker has previously argued that the rules binding him should be loose.
However, when the BBC investigated Lineker last October over his tweet, the BBC stated: “Lineker, although not involved in BBC journalism. . . falls into the category of those for which there is an “additional responsibility”.[of impartiality]. . . ‘ because of its notoriety.
A former senior editor said management was right in suspending Lineker: “The gap between the demands on news anchors and Gary Lineker is now too great. You can’t go to a gay pride march, but he can compare ministerial rhetoric to the Nazis? He should rein it in. The ordinary people of the BBC are his colleagues.”
Several senior officials also said they believed it was right for the BBC to take action against Lineker. But, they added, the rulebook is unsustainable – not least because the BBC relies on wayward external contributors.
Journalist David Aaronovitch hosted The meeting room since 2016 on Radio 4, a current affairs program. He was also a columnist at The Times up until this month. He said: “Personally, I think the refugee policy is unworkable and immoral. I wrote this. But in the program we only focus on feasibility. And people seem pretty happy with that split.”
Another columnist, Tim Harford of the FT, who sometimes criticizes politicians in his columns, moderates More or lessa current program on Radio 4.
Richard Sambrook, a former director of BBC News, has called on the BBC to “review and clarify their contractual relationship with freelance workers and how the rules of impartiality extend beyond news. Both are currently full of fudge.”
The ramifications of the BBC’s decision were already threatening to undermine the format of their most-watched sports show, with two well-known former footballers regularly appearing alongside Lineker game of the dayalerted the broadcaster.
Former England strikers Alan Shearer and Ian Wright both announced on Twitter on Friday night that they would not appear in Saturday’s edition. Wright tweeted: “Everybody knows what game of the day means to me, but I’ve told the BBC I won’t do it tomorrow. Solidarity.”
https://www.ft.com/content/ce175eb7-d716-4fd4-b56d-60d09fef7370 BBC forces Gary Lineker to step down from presenting ‘Match of the Day’