Despite his comments on UK migration policy, Gary Lineker is confident of his position
Football presenter Gary Lineker has said he is confident the BBC will allow him to continue hosting one of the UK’s most popular sports shows despite his controversial comments about the government’s refugee policy.
The former England international, who is the public broadcaster’s highest-paid star, is at the center of the BBC’s latest impartiality controversy after he compared the language used by ministers to promote plans to tackle illegal migration to that of Nazi Germany.
While Lineker said Thursday he was looking forward to hosting the company’s flagship Match of the day On Saturday night’s show, BBC insiders warned he had a case to answer and insisted no firm decision had been made on whether he would face disciplinary action.
“There are people who are completely free to say what they like, but he is not one of them,” said one. “Things are moving fast.”
Lineker, who is paid £1.35m by the BBC between 2021 and 2022, on Tuesday described the Government’s strategy to stop small boats crossing the Channel as “cruel beyond measure”. He also said on Twitter that the language used about migrants was “no different than what Germany used in the 1930s”.
The new legislation, which the government has admitted could breach human rights laws, will ban anyone believed to have entered the UK illegally from claiming asylum.
The BBC’s impartiality rules are open to some interpretation. Its social media guidelines state that staff “must not take any particular position on public policy, political or industrial disputes or any other ‘controversial subject’.”
While also noting that “individuals who do not engage in these [public policy] problems [in their work] they cannot be bound’ by social media restrictions, they must ‘continue to avoid bringing the BBC into disrepute’.
The broader principle is “appropriate” impartiality. This means that programs, contractors and staff have different requirements depending on the context.
The requirements are particularly strict in news reporting, in recent years journalists have been told not to attend, for example, a local meeting on traffic restructuring near their homes. But they are less stressful for sports presenters like Lineker.
The requirement of sufficient impartiality was tempered by the requirement that the BBC respect basic democratic principles, including the ‘rule of law’.
A person involved in enforcing the broadcaster’s impartiality policy believed it could help protect Lineker. “In theory, you can be perfectly impartial but criticize the government for not upholding the rule of law,” he said.
But Lineker’s choice of language may still cause him problems. One former senior news outlet said: “Putting out a tweet saying you disagree with government policy is one thing. Compared to the [rhetoric used by the] the interior minister of the Nazis, that’s different.”
Insiders say the dispute was complicated by an 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 denied wrongdoing, but one person said perceptions of his partisanship may have prevented him from “acting more forcefully.”
Lineker, who was revealed last year violated the impartiality guidelines He was cheered by the left for a tweet about the Conservative Party accepting donations from Russians, but his comments drew fire from 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 is of Jewish origin and that her family “felt the impact of the Holocaust very keenly”.
The BBC said it has “social media guidance which will be published. Individuals who work with us are aware of their social media responsibilities. If necessary, we have appropriate internal processes.”