Gary Lineker confident despite comments on British migration policy
Football presenter Gary Lineker said he was confident the BBC would continue to allow him to present one of Britain’s most popular sports programs despite controversial comments he made about the government’s asylum policy.
The former England international, who is the publicly funded broadcaster’s highest-paid star, is at the center of the BBC’s latest row over impartiality after he compared the language ministers, who have been used to promote their plans to curb illegal migration, to those in Nazi Germany.
While Lineker said Thursday he’s looking forward to hosting the company’s flagship game of the day show on Saturday night, BBC insiders warned he has a case to answer and insisted no firm decision had been made on whether he would face disciplinary action.
“There are some people who are completely free to say whatever they want, but he’s not one of them,” said one. “Things are moving fast.”
Lineker, who was paid £1.35million by the BBC in 2021-22, on Tuesday described the government’s strategy to stop small boats crossing the Channel as “immeasurably cruel”. He also said on Twitter that the language used about migrants “is not dissimilar to that used in Germany in the 1930s”.
The new legislation, which the government has acknowledged may breach human rights law, bans anyone believed to have entered the UK illegally from ever applying for asylum.
The BBC’s impartiality rules allow for some interpretation. The social media policy states that employees “should not take a particular position on any public policy issue, political or industrial controversy, or any other ‘controversial issue’.”
While it also states that “people who don’t deal with it [public policy] subjects [in their work] must not be bound by social media restrictions, they “still must avoid discrediting the BBC”.
The broader, overarching principle is “due” impartiality. This means that programs, contractors and employees have different needs depending on the context.
The restrictions on the news are particularly strict, as in recent years journalists have, for example, been ordered not to attend local transport reorganization meetings near their homes. For sports presenters like Lineker, however, they are less of a burden.
The requirement of due impartiality is also mitigated by the requirement that the BBC respect fundamental democratic principles, including the “rule of law”.
One person involved in implementing the network’s impartiality policy thought it might help shield Lineker. “In theory, you can be completely impartial but criticize the government for not upholding the rule of law,” he said.
But Lineker’s choice of language can still cause him problems. A former senior news executive said: “When you put out a tweet saying you disagree with government policy, that’s one thing. If you compare them [rhetoric used by the] Interior Minister of the Nazis, that’s something else.”
Insiders said the dispute was complicated by the investigation into BBC chairman Richard Sharp, who was recommended for the role by Boris Johnson shortly after he helped the then Prime Minister arrange a personal loan of up to £800,000. Sharp has denied wrongdoing, but one person said perceptions of his partisanship may have prevented “more robust action”.
Lineker, who was found last year to have flouted impartiality guidelines over a tweet about the Conservative Party accepting donations from Russians, has been hailed on the left but fired on for his comments by government ministers.
Home Secretary Suella Braverman, who introduced the Illegal Migration Bill to Parliament this week, told the BBC on Thursday they were “lazy and unhelpful”. She added that her husband was Jewish and her family “felt the effects of the Holocaust very badly.”
The BBC said it has “social media guidance that will be published. People who work for us are aware of their social media responsibilities. If necessary, we have set up appropriate internal processes.”
https://www.ft.com/content/6b09a8bf-9b14-475d-92e7-e4766ba74ba7 Gary Lineker confident despite comments on British migration policy