- The BBC has suspended Gary Lineker from presenting Match of the Day, sparking a mass boycott by other presenters.
- The former Barcelona and Tottenham Hotspur striker was taken off air after the BBC deemed a tweet of his to be in breach of impartiality guidelines.
- Lineker, 62, described the Conservative Party’s policy on stopping boats carrying illegal migrants as “an immeasurably cruel policy directed at the most vulnerable people in language that is not dissimilar to that used by Germany in the 30s”.
- Other MOTD presenters, such as record Premier League scorer Alan Shearer and former Arsenal forward Ian Wright, have since refused to present the show until and unless Lineker is reinstated.
BBC’s past has come back to haunt them
The BBC were correct to suspend Gary Lineker. His comments clearly violate the BBC’s guidelines.
As a state broadcaster, the BBC have an obligation to be as impartial as possible. There was a time when BBC journalists were considered to be at the very top of their craft, with the BBC providing impartial and unbiased news reports.
This situation certainly highlights the fragile and symbiotic relationship between the broadcaster and the contractor. If either party refuses to keep their side of the bargain, trouble ensues.
To many people, Gary Lineker is the face of the BBC but, ultimately, the BBC played a part in that. It has a reputation to maintain. Impartiality means impartiality.
If Lineker can’t or won’t adhere to their rules, it stands to reason there would be a consequence.
However, their track record of maintaining their impartiality has come under fierce criticism in recent years. The BBC have been accused of becoming more favourable towards left-leaning attitudes towards current affairs.
An example many could point to is last year during the World Cup. The BBC was more than willing to allow Lineker and other presenters to criticise Qatar, in regards to LGBT+ rights in particular, but have an issue when it comes to criticism of the UK government.
Had they been consistent with their impartiality regulations over recent years, there could be no accusations of hypocrisy or favouritism levelled against them.
This is why, to many, it looks as if the BBC is being selective with their editorial practices, which undermines its own impartiality rules.
It’s the reason why so many people back Lineker; not necessarily because of what he said, but the general principle of his right to express a biased opinion without consequence on the BBC.
Either the BBC is impartial to everyone, or it’s not.
What happens now?
The BBC is in talks with Lineker about his social media use. It has already broadcasted MOTD, which lasted just twenty minutes, without commentary or punditry analysis due to Lineker’s colleagues refusing to work in solidarity.
Lineker, if reports are to be believed, is expected to be reinstated by the time the next MOTD airs.
However, it is also thought that this situation does call into question the survival of the license fee itself.
If the BBC does decide to reinstate Lineker, it will appear to many that a BBC representative can make clearly biased comments without consequence. It would be a watershed moment in broadcasting.
Without impartiality, the license fee becomes untenable.