BBC faces more coverage disruptions amid Lineker crisis
The BBC’s sports coverage was hit by a second day of heavy disruption on Sunday as dozens of staff walked off the job in solidarity with top football presenter Gary Lineker, who was sacked by the broadcaster after he criticized the British government’s asylum policy on Twitter.
The news corporation is reeling from huge fallout and questions about its impartiality after it fired Lineker, one of English soccer’s most famous players and the corporation’s highest-paid broadcaster, on Friday after he compared the Conservative government’s language about 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 that would detain asylum seekers, deport them and ban them from ever re-entering the UK.
Immigration and “return controls” at the UK’s borders have been hot-button issues in the UK since voters backed the UK’s exit from the European Union. Like his predecessors in recent years, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has made stopping the crossing of the English Channel one of his top priorities. But his latest plans have drawn swift condemnation from the UN refugee agency and many human rights groups, who call the policy unethical and unworkable.
Pressure is mounting on the BBC to handle the crisis as its bosses resign amid accusations of political bias and suppression of free speech.
The row has affected BBC sports programming, with dozens of sports presenters and journalists walking off their jobs over the weekend in support of Lineker.
A look at who Lineker is, the debate surrounding his comments and how it has affected the BBC.
WHO IS LINEKER AND WHAT DID HE SAY?
Lineker, 62, is one of the most influential figures in British media and was paid 1.35 million pounds ($1.6 million) by the BBC last year.
One of England’s top goalscorers with 48 goals in 80 internationals, he was a household name in Britain before becoming the main presenter of Match of the Day in 1999.
In the Tuesday post To his 8.7 million followers on Twitter, Lineker described the government’s new plan to detain and deport migrants arriving by boat as “an immeasurably cruel policy aimed at the most vulnerable in language not dissimilar to that of Germany in the 1930s”.
HOW DID THE BIBIS AND OTHERS REACT?
The BBC, which has heavily covered Lineker’s row, said the presenter had breached its social media guidelines and said he should stand down from presenting Match of the Day.
While BBC news staff are banned 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 says that broadcasters with a “significant public profile” have a responsibility not to take sides on partisan political issues or political controversy.
The government called Lineker’s Nazi comparison offensive and unacceptable, and some lawmakers said he should be fired.
In an interview with the BBC, the broadcaster’s chief executive, Tim Davey, flatly rejected the suggestion that Lineker should stand down due to 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’re asking someone to step back to say that,” said Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp, who is known for his candor about current affairs. “If I understand correctly, it is a message, an opinion about human rights, and it should be possible to say that.”
Others say the corporation’s impartiality rules appear to be in tatters, pointing out that Lineker was not disciplined when he criticized the Qatari government’s enforcement of rights during last year’s World Cup.
“It seems they want to pick and choose when they want to be biased, criticizing others or criticizing other countries or other political parties or other religions seems to be okay,” former England international John Barnes told Sky News.
HOW WAS THE BBC AFFECTED?
The 100-year-old BBC is under scrutiny not least because it is a public corporation. it is primarily financed by a license fee paid by all households with a television and is expected to be independent.
The broadcaster’s neutrality has recently been undermined by revelations that its chairman Richard Sharpe, a Conservative party donor, helped secure a loan for then-prime minister Boris Johnson in 2021, weeks before he was appointed to the BBC job in a government bid.
More immediately, the decision to sack Lineker sparked a mass walkout of BBC sports presenters and journalists in solidarity with their colleague.
Several Saturday afternoon football shows were pulled at the last minute and Match of the Day, a British institution since the 1960s, was broadcast without commentary and only showed shortened footage. Normally about an hour and a half long, Saturday’s “Match of the Day” aired for just 20 minutes.
Sunday’s coverage of the Women’s Super League was broadcast without commentary from the BBC’s regular presenters, with Match of the Day 2 also expected in a shortened format.
Davey apologized for the disruption and said bosses were “working very hard to sort things out and make sure we get back on the air”.
AP Sports Writer Steve Douglas contributed to this report.
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