Has the BBC been impartial over Lineker?

There was a moment last night when I wondered if we were going to see tonight’s Match of the Day presented by Jacob Rees-Mogg and Nadine Dorries after pundits and commenters alike responded to Gary Lineker’s suspension with solidarity.

Gary Lineker is a national treasure and sports presenter. While he is on telly, he talks about football. If he talked about politics, I doubt he’d have the following among football fans that he has. I never watch him because I am not a football fan. However, I have a very positive opinion of him from Twitter, where he has, for years, been chatting away about all sorts of stuff. He wasn’t a fan of Brexit, you know.

Lineker is far from the first BBC star to have political views. One of the first I remember was Kenny Everett, with his Let’s Bomb Russia comments and cruel jibes about Michael Foot back in 1983 at a Conservative Party election event.

And what about Ian Hislop and Paul Merton? They have rarely been complimentary about any Governemnt? Are they next in line for the chop?

When Rishi Sunak tweeted on Tuesday with some pride that he was removing modern slavery protections from people who arrive in this country illegally,  anyone with a commitment to human rights was rightly concerned:

Here was our Prime Minister basically giving a free pass to slavers who could then tell their victims, correctly, that there was no recourse to help. It’s hardly surprising people were angry.

Lineker’s response was strong but justifiably so. He called the Bill:

An immeasurably cruel policy directed at the most vulnerable people in language that is not dissimilar to that used by Germany in the 30s

The way in which the Tories have been othering vulnerable members of society, from immigrants to people who need social security to survive to trans people to fat people to those suffering from addictions, disabilities and mental ill health has been of concern for some years. Remember when David Cameron described migrants crossing the Channel as a “swarm?” It’s dehumanising and creates a culture where vulnerable people are seen as a threat and not as fellow human beings just like us. It’s done to set people against each other to distract from a failing government.

Our Tim Farron is both a mad football fan and passionately pro supporting refugees. He tweeted:

There is an argument that those who bring us our current affairs on our public service broadcaster should refrain from expressing their own political views in public. But let’s have no doubt that their own political views can affect how they bring us those news. Robbie Gibb, for example, was head of the BBC’s political coverage during the Brexit referendum. This coverage was criticised for giving insufficient scrutiny to the claims of the Leave campaign. Just over a year later, he disappeared off to Downing Street to become Theresa May’s Director of Communication, and now he’s back at the BBC Board, apparently lecturing Newsnight staff on impartiality.

Most recently there has been controversy over the appointment of the BBC Chairman Richard Sharp, who had a rather unseemly entanglement with an effort to sort out then PM Boris Johnson’s financial affairs when his six figure salary wasn’t enough for the poor love.  The Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee said that his failurea to disclose this “constitute a breach of the standards expected of individuals” applying for prominent public appointments.” Not only that, Sharp is a Tory donor and a supporter of Boris Johnson from way back.

So on one hand, we have someone who has a part time job as a presenter on a sports programme disciplined for a tweet on his private social media. On the other, we have some very concerning connections between the BBC and the highest levels of the Conservative Party.  The latter is way more damaging to the reputation of our public service broadcaster.

And of course what is particularly ironic is that Tory MPs, who are usually championing the right of people to be as racist, sexist and transphobic as they like in the name of free speech, are now going after Gary Lineker.

By suspending Lineker, in response to Government pressure, the BBC has effectively thrown a dead cat onto the table to distract us from the heat the Government has been taking over its appalling and despicable Illegal Migrations Bill.  This is far from a neutral act.  And it is really not a good look for the supposedly impartial BBC to be seen to take its orders from an increasingly extreme Government,

But Lineker and his colleagues seem to have the public on his side. I suspect his inbox is bursting with lucrative job offers and he may well end up taking his following with him. And the BBCs reputation will have been dented. Arguably a good day’s work for those in Government who have always wanted its demise.

Update:

Ed Davey has called on BBC Director General to resign:

This saga has shown failure at the very top of the BBC and the dire need to urgently protect their independence.

We need leadership at the BBC that upholds our proud British values and can withstand today’s consistently turbulent politics and Conservative bullying tactics.

Sadly, under Richard Sharp’s leadership, this has not been the case: his appointment and position are now totally untenable and he must resign.

The BBC should be a champion of freedom of speech and must overhaul their current rules and judgement on impartiality. They can’t continue to play by rules that are so one-sided.

The Conservative Government has systematically attacked and undermined the independence of our BBC. That’s not in the best interests of our country and our democracy and Liberal Democrats will fiercely stand up against this.

 

 

 

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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22 Comments

  • Heather Dearlove 11th Mar '23 - 2:35pm

    Spot on. Very well said.

    This ‘ government’ also constantly says that it wishes to welcomes Afghani refugees. However, there is no direct flight from Kabul, consequently, Afghani refugees have to seek temporary ‘residence’ in intermediate countries under the current bill being considered. This means that all Afghani asylum claims will be rejected on a technicality which is either premeditated policy or faulty preparation of the bill. Either way, it sends out one signal – don’t come here.

    Many people in Afghanistan risked their lives to aid the British army in an attempt to repel the Taliban and they in return receive the contempt of this ‘ government’.

    There are those of us who lost many fathers, grandfathers, brothers, uncles, sisters who DID fight fascism in between 1939- 1945.

    Hence, Gary Linekar’s reference of the language of the Tory party echoing the rhetoric of 1930’s Germany is correct and reflects a gradual build up of prejudicial tensions whipped up by an ever increasingly autocratic ‘government’ which inevitably inspires nationalistic tendencies enabling racism and the persecution of minorities.

  • Mick Taylor 11th Mar '23 - 2:50pm

    I’m not and never have been interested in football and only know of Linekar vaguely. I do know a lot about Germany in the 30s because my mother and her family faced possible deportation and death under the Nazi regime and many of her relatives perished in concentration camps. I believe that we Liberal Democrats need to speak out loudly and clearly against both the Migration Bill and in defence of Mr Linekar’s right to criticise it. The BBC is behaving in a quite despicable way and needs to back down smartish. This appalling government needs to be dispatched as soon as humanly possible. Our party and its predecessor have often spoken out on issues like this and I expect that all our MPs and Peers will continue to speak up against Sunak, Braverman et al and demand that the BBC stops cow towing to this dreadful right wing government and its press allies.

  • Most professional bodies will have a requirement that members (by their actions) do not bring their profession into disrepute. The BBC, as a public news organisation, has ethical and impartially rules for its broadcasters and staff that extend to social media comments outside of work.
    Gary Lineker has neither brought his profession as a sports presenter into disrepute or breached impartiality rules. In International football there is no such thing as impartiality (ask any Scot). You want your own country to win.
    The reference to the rhetoric of 1930s Germany is a common one in public discourse and frequently referred to in discussing antisemitism.
    It looks to me as if the BBC management have shot themselves in the foot here, creating a storm in a teacup. I recognise managing talent is no easy job, but you don’t get to become BBC Chair or retain that position without well-honed leadership and diplomatic skills coupled with sound judgement. Richard Sharp does not appear to be displaying those skills in this case.

  • Barry Lofty 11th Mar '23 - 3:26pm

    It is reassuring that so many people are in agreement with Gary Lineker,s view of the present government’s latest ploy to ingratiate themselves with the extreme right wing elements in their own party and in the country, the language being used on many subjects should worry us all and needs combined opposition from all party’s.

  • George Thomas 11th Mar '23 - 5:24pm

    The quote by Gary Lineker seems quite tame, even judging against his past examples of using Twitter to share viewpoints, and inoffensive to almost everyone with exception of those who use “snowflakes” as term of insult.

    Should he be allowed to say such things while working for the BBC? Are there ways in which it can be okay to share viewpoints? The BBC will have social media policy drawn up to answer both these questions, though we’re now having some discussion about whether that policy is fairly written and additionally fairly applied.

    All the BBC has done is to remind everyone of past examples where Andrew Neil, Jeremy Clarkson, Alan Sugar have made political statements more in line with Tory viewpoint and any fuss made by Owen Jones etc. was almost totally ignored by those running the BBC.

    BBC has always been a conservative corporation with some acceptance of more left-wing or liberal viewpoints. It’s a little scary that small c conservatism is judged as being not supportive enough by current government.

  • Graham Jeffs 11th Mar '23 - 6:31pm

    If Gary Lineker had breached “impartiality” by saying he supported the government’s actions, would the BBC have sought to discipline him?

    Apart from that, there is surely a difference between a news presenter expressing an opinion as compared to a sports commentator or a comedian.

  • Steve Trevethan 11th Mar '23 - 7:26pm

    Why should any citizen be obstructed from saying what they genuinely think, provided that it is not abusive?

    Might it be called “Practical Freedom of Speech”?

  • Ruvi Ziegler 11th Mar '23 - 7:34pm

    The Board of Deputies of British Jews’ important statement:

    “Today’s British Jewish community is descended from refugees and/or migrants. We have significant concerns at the potential for newly proposed migration legislation to breach both the Refugee Convention and the Human Rights Act.
    While we understand that small boat crossings to the UK have increased notably in recent years, we believe that strengthening and enhancing safe, legal and viable routes to gaining asylum in this country will be a far more effective way to significantly reduce such numbers”.

  • Martin Gray 11th Mar '23 - 8:36pm

    @Barry Lofty…
    Whatever we may think – it does resonate with voters, irrespective of how much backing GL gets online ..

    @BritainElects

    Mar 9
    On banning migrants who come to the UK in small boats from ever re-entering the UK

    Support: 50%
    Oppose: 36%

    via @YouGov

  • Alex Macfie 12th Mar '23 - 8:34am

    @Martin Gray: It’s about doing the right thing, not chasing public opinion. Besides, we wouldn’t be remotely credible if we tried to chase the votes of the 50% from the poll you quote. People know well enough the sort of things we stand for.
    Also just because people say they support the proposed new immigration law, doesn’t mean it’s an important issue for them when deciding how to vote. Polling evidence suggests that for most voters it is not. The sort of voters for whom it is a litmus-test issue are hardly going to vote for us anyway. They’re mainly Red Wall voters who have recently switched from Labour to the Tories, living in constituencies where we are a poor 3rd or below so have vitrually no hope of winning anyway.

  • Peter Davies 12th Mar '23 - 9:35am

    Twitter is not really a social medium, it is a broadcasting medium. The BBC should be clear that their own twitter feeds and podcasts are subject to their own editorial policy but any other feed or podcast series is a rival channel. As such, some employees can be banned from working for other channels but if contractors are allowed to contribute to other channels (including their own twitter feed) then any attempt to influence the editorial policy of those channels is unacceptable.

  • Nonconformistradical 12th Mar '23 - 9:44am

    “It’s about doing the right thing, not chasing public opinion.”

    Exactly. And the government’s legislation seems utterly immoral to me.

  • @ Martin Gray – The 36% of people who oppose the policy are the very people we should be trying to attract! They are the natural Liberal constituency and 36% is quite a lot more than the current 9% vote share. On Lineker, whilst I think comparing everything to 1930’s Germany is quite wrong, he is not a current affairs correspondent and so is entitled to exercise his free speech which the right claim to defend.

  • Maybe some don’t realise we are languishing in the polls ….As for doing the right thing – I’m more interested in those that are struggling to make ends meet & can barely afford the TV licence – not someone who’s paid a 7 figure sum out of it …

  • Jason Connor 12th Mar '23 - 10:33am

    I agree with Martin Gray. Footballers do not do much to help those in need despite their obscene earnings. The government has to tackle the issue of small boats being used by criminal gangs to exploit people who are desperate. There is a humanitarian issue. Where they fall down is on not providing safe and legal routes for people seeking asylum status. I imagine many people would oppose unlawful immigration and its association with criminal gangs. I remember Jo Swinson, then in government, saying something similar on QT some years ago. As for the comments on 1930s Germany, I found them deeply distasteful and simplistic.

  • Over the past decade I’ve been saying, in sermons and elsewhere, that we ought to be looking afresh at the history of Europe in the 1930s (in a more serious way than watching the Yesterday channel!). That is not the same as describing members of the government as Nazis. Most are simply dangerous right-wing populists with a taste for using their power to shovel public money in the direction of their business friends. Whether Lineker is right or wrong in choosing the time and place for uttering his brief comment, it would be tragic if the row actually obscured the horrors of government asylum policy.
    Meanwhile apart from picking up by-election results from aldc.twitter I don’t open anything that comes on twitter and wouldn’t dream of sending anything on it.

  • Nonconformistradical 12th Mar '23 - 11:04am

    @Jason Connor
    “Where they fall down is on not providing safe and legal routes for people seeking asylum status.”

    Indeed. But unless and until they do their policy is utterly immoral.

  • Nonconformistradical 12th Mar '23 - 3:10pm

    @Martin Gray and @Jason Connor
    On the point about footballers’ earnings – we are reminded on LDV today that Lineker has taken refugees into his home.

    https://www.libdemvoice.org/standing-up-to-government-is-the-only-way-the-bbc-will-get-out-of-the-corner-its-backed-itself-into-72761.html

  • Alex Macfie 15th Mar '23 - 9:12am

    @Jason Connor: The whole point is that this law DOES NOT “tackle the issue of small boats being used by criminal gangs to exploit people who are desperate”.Criminalising the victims and denying them any recourse to the law never does that, it only helps the gangs. Trafficked people are hardly going to shop their traffickers to the police if it means they themselves are punished, and this will tighten the hold the gangsters will have over their victims.
    Stopping the criminal gangs is not the intention anyway — the purpose of the law is to shore up Tory support in the Red Wall.

    @Martin Gray: Do you honestly think that the promoters of this law care about the people who can’t make ends meet?

  • Laurence Cox 21st Mar '23 - 1:51pm

    It is rather disappointing to see people on here like @Jason Connor and @Martin Gray disparaging footballers and football clubs, who actually do a great deal of charitable work in their communities; it just doesn’t get widely publicised. Many have set up their own charities, often with the name of the football club and “Foundation” e.g. The Chelsea Foundation and the Liverpool FC Foundation. Sometimes the name of the charity is slightly different e.g. Burnley FC in the Community but the work done is the same. Just try Googling your local football club and learn what they do.

  • Nonconformistradical 22nd Mar '23 - 8:04am

    Following on from Laurence’s comment about footballers and charity efforts….

    There’s a nice little story today about Gary Neville giving a lift to a disabled woman –
    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-manchester-65025419

    Can anyone come up with any tory MPs they think would do that…?

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