Riot around Gary Lineker exposes vulnerability of the BBC

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Gary Lineker
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  • Arjan van der Horst

It started with well-known former football players Ian Wright and Alan Shearer. They no longer wanted to act as analysts on the sports programs of the British public broadcaster BBC. Other commentators such as Jermaine Defoe and Alex Scott joined the boycott and not much later BBC presenters such as Colin Murray, Mark Chapman, Jason Mohammad and Leon Osman followed.

They all decided to stop working this weekend in solidarity with Gary Lineker, who was suspended on Friday as the presenter of the well-known football program Match of the Day. The result: the entire sports programming on television and radio is in disarray this weekend. Some BBC programs have been pulled from the channel. Others, such as Match of the Day, are broadcast, but without a presentation.

Critical tweet

The reason is a tweet from Lineker in which he strongly criticized the asylum policy of the British government. Earlier this week, Downing Street announced a new strict immigration law to stop the thousands of migrants crossing the Channel by boat.

From now on, any migrant who enters the country illegally will lose the right to asylum and will be deported as soon as possible. The law is controversial because it probably violates international refugee and human rights treaties.

Lineker made it to Tuesday on Twitter fiercely to the government. According to him, it is a “cruel” policy aimed at the “most vulnerable people”. He compared the language of government “with language used in Germany in the 1930s”. On Friday, the BBC management decided that Lineker must stop presenting for the time being, because he has violated the broadcaster’s principle of neutrality.

Support for Lineker at the Crystal Palace-Manchester City match

Match of the Day has been on air since 1964 and is by far the most popular sports program on British television. Every Saturday, millions of people tune in to watch Premier League summaries.

Gary Lineker, former captain of the England national football team, has presented the program since 1999. With his light-hearted tongue-in-cheek style, he has become one of the most loved presenters.

Lineker does not shy away from public debate. He regularly engages in political discussions via Twitter. For example, he is a staunch opponent of Brexit and is critical of the Conservative government’s immigration policy.

The BBC has always tolerated his comments, although there is a strict policy on political statements by employees. The broadcaster attaches great importance to independence and neutrality. According to the guidelines of the BBC handbook, employees are not allowed to take political views on the channel or via social media.

In principle, this rule applies to all employees, although it is most strictly applied to news presenters. Employees of other programs such as sports broadcasts and entertainment shows usually have more freedom of movement.

target of the right-wing press

Why did the BBC intervene at Lineker this time and not earlier? For days, Lineker’s tweet dominated the front pages of the right-wing press, which screamed bloody murder. This is about much more than a riot around a presenter.

The BBC, along with the monarchy and the NHS health service, is one of the classic pillars of society, but it is an institution under pressure.

Auntie beeb, as the broadcaster is affectionately known, has been the target of right-wing tabloids such as the Daily Mail and Conservative politicians for years. They think the BBC is too left-wing and too “woke” and are campaigning to curtail the BBC financially. Nadine Dorries, media minister under Boris Johnson, announced last year to abolish television and radio fees. That would take away the BBC’s main source of income.

Own goal

It did not come to that, but in that hostile climate public service broadcasting has become vulnerable. Right-wing media use every scandal to wash their ears and undermine the BBC. The broadcaster therefore seems to have yielded to the pressure of the right-wing press to sideline Lineker.

The BBC emphasizes that this is a temporary suspension of Lineker. But how long is temporary? Lineker has said he is not willing to retract his statements. For now, the BBC appears to have scored a spectacular own goal as a slew of presenters, commentators and analysts have stepped down. What started as a simple tweet has turned into a full-blown crisis for British public service broadcasters.

  • BBC presenters support Lineker: sports programs on TV and radio scrapped
  • Lineker (temporarily) left the BBC, after a fuss about a tweet about British asylum policy
  • Fuss around football star Lineker, who compares British asylum policy to Nazi Germany
  • Abroad

  • Football

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