The BBC presenter’s tweet, the suspension, turned the UK’s sporting weekend upside down
LONDON — The BBC’s sports coverage was hit by severe disruption for a second day on Sunday as dozens of staff refused to cooperate with top football presenter Gary Lineker, who was suspended by the broadcaster after criticizing the British government’s refugee policy on Twitter.
The news agency is reeling from a huge fallout and questions about its impartiality after it suspended Lineker, one of English football’s most lauded players and the company’s highest-paid presenter, on Friday after he compared the Conservative government’s language on migrants to that used in Nazi Germany. .
He was referring to government plans to stop migrants arriving on UK shores in small boats by introducing tough new laws to detain asylum seekers, deport them and ban them from ever returning to UK soil.
Immigration and “taking back control” of Britain’s borders have been hot-button issues in the UK since voters backed Britain’s exit from the European Union. Like his predecessors in recent years, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak also considered stopping migrants crossing the English Channel to be one of the most important priorities. But his latest plans were quickly condemned by the UN’s refugee agency and several rights groups, who call the policy unethical and unworkable.
The BBC is under increasing pressure to resolve the crisis, with growing calls for its bosses to step down amid accusations of political bias and suppression of free speech.
The controversy also affected the BBC’s sports programs: on Saturday and Sunday, dozens of sports presenters and reporters walked off the job in support of Lineker.
A look at Lineker, the controversy surrounding his comments and how it has affected the BBC:
WHO IS LINEKER AND WHAT DID HE SAY?
Lineker, 62, is one of Britain’s most influential media figures and was paid 1.35 million pounds ($1.6 million) by the BBC last year.
One of England’s greatest strikers, he scored 48 goals in 80 international matches. He was already known in Britain before he became the main presenter of the football show ‘Match of the Day’ in 1999.
In a post to his 8.7 million Twitter followers on Tuesday, Lineker called the government’s new plan to detain and deport migrants arriving by boat “an immeasurably cruel policy aimed at the most vulnerable people, in language not dissimilar to that used by Germany.” the 30s.”
HOW DID THE BBC AND OTHERS REACT?
The BBC – which featured prominently in the Lineker row – said the presenter had breached social media guidelines and said he should step back from presenting ‘Match of the Day’.
While BBC news reporters are prohibited from expressing political opinions, Linker is a freelancer who does not work in news or current affairs. However, in guidelines updated in 2020, the BBC stated that presenters with a “significant public profile” must avoid taking sides on party political issues or political debates.
The government called Lineker’s Nazi comparison offensive and unacceptable, and some MPs said he should be sacked.
In an interview with the BBC, the broadcaster’s director-general, Tim Davie, strongly rejected suggestions that Lineker had been suspended because of pressure from the ruling Conservative Party.
Many who supported Lineker said he had a right to express his opinion online.
“I don’t understand why you would ask someone to back down because that’s what they said,” said Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp, who is known for being outspoken about current events. “If I understand correctly, it’s a message, an opinion about human rights, and you have to be able to say that.”
Others say the company’s impartiality rules appear confusing, pointing out that Lineker faced no disciplinary action when he criticized the Qatari government’s rights record during last year’s World Cup.
“They seem to be selective about when they want to be impartial, to criticize other people, to criticize other countries, political parties or other religions, it seems to be fine,” former England footballer John Barnes told Sky News.
HOW DID YOU GET INTO THE BBC?
The 100-year-old BBC is under particular scrutiny because it is a public company – funded mainly by license fees paid by all households with a television – and is expected to be independent.
The broadcaster’s neutrality came under scrutiny recently when it emerged that its chairman, Richard Sharp – a Conservative Party donor – had helped arrange a loan for then-prime minister Boris Johnson in 2021, weeks before he was appointed to the BBC job on a government recommendation.
The decision to suspend Lineker immediately triggered a mass walkout of BBC sports presenters and reporters in solidarity with their colleagues.
On Saturday, several daytime football programs were pulled at the last minute, and ‘Match of the Day’, a British institution since the 1960s, was broadcast without commentary and only featured abbreviated footage. The “Match of the Day” on Saturday, which usually lasts an hour and a half, was broadcast for only 20 minutes.
Sunday’s coverage of the Women’s Super League was broadcast without commentary from the BBC’s regular presenters, and ‘Match Of The Day 2’ is also expected to be shown in a reduced format.
Davie apologized for the disruption and said bosses were “working very hard to resolve the situation and ensure we get the show back on air”.
AP Sports writer Steve Douglas contributed to this report.
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