Gary Lineker and the battle between impartiality, opinions and the BBC
News rang like bells throughout the country regarding freedom of speech these last two weeks. This discourse arose through a fiery Tweet football commentator and BBC sports personality Gary Lineker published. The tweet in question read in Lineker’s words that this government’s current language is: “not dissimilar to that used by Germany in the 30s.”
This tweet was in reference to the Conservative government’s recent Illegal Migration Bill. This bill has pledged to discourage those taking the sometimes arduous, lengthy and dangerous journey across the channel and desist those travelling in small boats. Furthermore, it incorporates the Rwanda policy that attests that migrants can be safely diverted to other third-world nations that are deemed safe by the government.
In the last week, home secretary Suella Braverman made it clear that there is a “moral duty to stop the boats.”, and that the “Policy is profoundly at heart a humane attempt to break the incentive that sustains the business model of the smuggling gangs.”
This government’s current language is: “not dissimilar to that used by Germany in the 30s.”
The bill has been a debated article in Parliamentary gatherings and between politicians, but there has been little consensus. Even those on the corresponding political aisle to Suella Braverman have seen this lack of compromise. For example, former Prime Minister Theresa May labelled the bill as questionable in both its “legality practicality and efficacy.” Further, in a recent debate over the bill, Braverman argues that “some of the Bill’s measures are novel and legally untested.” But still, she attests that this bill is not “unlawful.”
Lineker has not been the first to criticise this move and the rhetoric it has brought with it. This new political focal shift has brought with it a developing language regarding the migration process and migrants. Migrants and asylum seekers are now seemingly to an extent lumped in with criminals and gang members.
This move could appear to be a clear appeal to the anti-immigration stance of a significant enough portion of the UK population. The insecurity concerning immigration in the UK is what may be pushing this change in rhetoric, possibly having tipped the vote for Brexit just over the edge. Moreover, the bill could be an effort to scrape together support from the electorate in the coming election, considering faith in the Tory government has dipped following Boris Johnson’s resignation as well as the appointment of Liz Truss. As of March, Conservatives only received as little as 23% of the vote in the polls and the Liberal Democrats are 13 percentage points behind them in terms of popularity.
This new political focal shift has brought with it a developing language regarding the migration process and migrants
Now Lineker has found a way to become an even louder voice than those purporting the actual bill. This can be seen in his suspension from the BBC, leading to protestation by his colleagues, some of whom are his lifelong friends in sports, and some are distant co-workers. The action taken by the BBC was felt by many and opened up opportunities for a range of figures to rise up and provide their take on the matter.
Some former colleagues criticised the move to protest Lineker’s suspension, and even questioned the lack of action when they lost their jobs in the face of the BBC’s desire to shrink the workforce during the peak of COVID. Specifically, former BBC employee and pundit Matt Le Tissier, when speaking with GB News, surmised that the reaction of the current crop “Is completely contradictory” to the way in which they reacted to his sacking. Although, it could be argued that this represents a matter of personnel, the chaotic nature of the pandemic and its widely felt effects. In his matter, there are clear, justified reasons for the action, no matter how harsh.
What Lineker received paints a new discourse and precedent. It will lead others to negotiate what they can express with the BBC’s pundits and personalities alike, how they can criticise, or even whether that is something they are privy to with their platform.
It will lead others to negotiate what they can express with the BBC’s pundits and personalities alike
Those that quite publicly went out of their way to stand alongside Lineker included former footballers turned pundits Alan Shearer, Ian Wright, Alex Scott and Jermaine Jenas. Shearer outlined in a Tweet that he published soon after news of Lineker’s ban broke that he simply “won’t be appearing on MOTD.”
This meant the regular Match of the Day broadcast was left without any of their leading presenters. Many watching the regular broadcast were left feeling disappointed at the shorter-than-usual viewing, and arguably lackluster quality in the absence of some of these experienced long-time presenters.
Some have criticised this move further, arguing that those paying their licence fees are paying for pundits to do their job and therefore are contravening their obligation to serve the public. For example, the press secretary for Rishi Sunak stated that “it’s obviously disappointing to see someone whose salary is funded by hard working British [licence fee] payers using that kind of rhetoric.”
Lineker will return though to coverage of the FA Cup after receiving an apology from the BBC as a result of his sudden suspension. Director-general Tom Davie gave the green light to confirm the host’s return. The Match of the Day host expressed how he was “glad to have found a way forward.” and is looking “forward to getting back on the air.”
Others that have stood alongside Lineker in protest turn their attention to the actions of the BBC as a corporation that contravenes their own necessity to encompass impartiality. This has been the one criticism often levelled at Lineker. The stance of the BBC on this matter has been contradictory, with many of Lineker’s colleagues, specifically John Barnes, quick to mention how not impartial the BBC has been throughout the years in sport coverage. It hardly shied away from encouraging unfettered criticism of the World Cup in Qatar, from its own producers and commentators alike. The BBC furthered this by refusing to televise the displays and performances in the stadiums prior to matches. This action necessarily reflected a specific opinion of the Qatari government and the event they were displaying and was hardly rectified by attempts to allow voices of Qatar to challenge this.
But the substance of Lineker’s Tweet is what is at stake, as this is what many took issue with. The issue of comparisons to Nazis has long been a debated topic.
Comparisons with Nazis, as we can assume, is what Lineker surely meant. These potent, evil historical figures have long been used to characterise many on different aisles of a discourse. Israeli police were described as Nazis, for instance. George Galloway was famously at loggerheads with Allan Sugar of the BBC, who would go on to call Jeremy Corbyn a Nazi. This involved a photoshopped rendition depicting the former Labour leader seated comfortably alongside Hitler. Alan Sugar subsequently never felt the possible threat of show cancellation despite him espousing an entirely uncharitable comparison.
The defence of impartiality questions whether criticism is an acceptable position in the BBC today regarding the government in power
Impartiality and the BBC have largely been a settled marriage as they are the media corporation essentially representing the country, and therefore have a duty to represent all the voices in the UK. However, despite Lineker’s extreme and maybe unfair comments, the defence of impartiality questions whether criticism is an acceptable position in the BBC today regarding the government in power.
In the past, the BBC have allowed certain types of rhetoric that can be seen as biased. Therefore, Lineker’s bad judgement and potentially hurtful remarks are no different from what the BBC allows for only that he has deviated from the status quo.
More to the point, Lineker, despite representing the BBC to an extent, still voiced an opinion outside of broadcast and without a direct or indirect link to the corporation. The difference between the two parties involved is that the BBC often looks to remain impartial only in reference to the Conservative government and, in some way, remains unobservant or oblivious to those remarks that stain or involve the staining of governments and parties outside of the Conservative party.
This should remain an example of how the BBC should not look to penalise employees for commenting or criticising government policies. Instead, they ought to reimagine or restructure how they criticise or desist from criticising employees for doing precisely what is replicated by them.