Gary Lineker and the problematic new realm of free speech

The pursuit of impartiality can make people do crazy things. Several journalists I know abstain from voting to preserve it. This has always struck me as a revealingly tribal worldview: is the only critical judgment they make about politics to mark a red or blue square at election time? If you raise children, care for elderly relatives, drive, use public transport, rent, have a mortgage or a real estate portfolio, you inevitably draw conclusions about whether your country is being run well or badly.

Tim Davie, the director general of the BBC, is now dealing with the consequences of his own moment of madness. By banning former England international Gary Lineker from presenting football highlights in lieu of his intemperate tweets about the rhetoric used by Conservative ministers to justify their new asylum policy, the company overturned established precedent.

Ex-footballers and others who make entertainment programs for the BBC have long enjoyed more freedom in what they say and do than those who cover news. No one at the BBC tried to remove sports pundit Ian Wright or force him to retract his statement that he admired Margaret Thatcher because she was a “strong woman” like his mother and allowed her to hold “much more”. from the money I earned”. Nobody at the company wanted to ban Lineker after he came out to Remain in 2016, or called on Labor to “bin Corbyn” in 2017. One of the reasons why the BBC has now had to cancel or curtail much of its football coverage is the well-established principle that ex-footballers can make political comments outside of their broadcasting roles.

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I agree with Wright that the top tax rate of 83 per cent when Margaret Thatcher came to power was too high, and with Lineker that it would have been better in all respects if the UK had stayed in the EU. Jeremy Corbyn did not lead the Labor Party in the 2017 and 2019 elections. But I disagree with Lineker that the UK’s immigration rhetoric sounds like 1930s Germany. The comparison is doubly harsh: it minimizes the overt violence of Nazi rhetoric and ignores the much greater similarities between British rhetoric at the time and British rhetoric today.

But neither I nor anyone else has the right to expect a football highlights celebrity to align with them on taxation, the UK’s institutional set-up, the leadership of the Labor Party or the right way to think or talk about British immigration policy. out of air.

The BBC’s blunders in its handling of the Lineker case mirror how Disney sidestepped the controversy surrounding actor Gina Carano’s conspiracy-filled tweets. Carano was fired from her role as the mercenary Cara Dune Star Wars lecture The Mandalorian on the grounds that he did not share Disney’s ‘values’. But Carano wasn’t hired because of his “values,” so he shouldn’t have been fired because of them.

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Bob Chapek, then Disney’s CEO, and Davie faced similar challenges: pressure from politicians pushing them in a conservative direction and pressure from staff pushing them in a liberal direction. In addition, social media has created a new realm of speech. Lineker’s tweets are certainly not private, but neither are they company missives or professional comments.

Although Twitter is public, people follow celebrities and other figures to get an unvarnished insight into who they are. But following people we admire on social media in one arena almost inevitably means learning about things we disagree with in others. It is reasonable to draw conclusions about whether or not we want to hang out with that person or see a movie based on their recommendation. But it’s the silly tweets about migration policy that show you really need to read Louise London’s Whitehall and the Jews not a reasonable metric to prevent football from being shown.

This inevitably means that some people face greater restrictions on what they say on social media. Obviously, you can’t publicly litigate your own organization’s internal disputes, while it’s fair to assume that people are more tolerant of eccentric tweets from actors than from a medical professional.

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But regardless of the precise nature of the role, the challenge for politicians, CEOs and other leaders today is to argue that the only reasonable expectation of a service is professionalism: not that their social media feeds are free of anything they don’t like. as appropriate. .

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