In England, the Gary Lineker affair shakes the BBC

In England, the Gary Lineker affair shakes the BBC


437 professional matches and 24 years of television retraining: it took time to see Gary Lineker warned for the first time in his career. The star presenter of England’s leading football show, Match of the Daybroadcast on the BBC, fourth top scorer in the Three Lions and second in the 1992 Ballon d’Or, found himself suspended this Friday because of a tweet. The demonstration that at 60, the striker trained in Leicester has lost none of its attacking qualities, nor its sense of formula.

Mr. Nice vs. the Establishment

It’s a real attacking tackle sent by Mr. Nice on social media to British Home Secretary Suella Braverman. The latter detailed in a video her plan to «stop the boats» migrants arriving illegally in the Kingdom. The objective is to systematically imprison stowaways as soon as they arrive, including children, in order to deport them as quickly as possible. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has itself denounced a bill contrary to the right of asylum. A violation of human rights that the progressive Lineker did not appreciate: «We welcome fewer refugees than the majority of European countries. It is an immeasurably cruel policy, directed against the most vulnerable people, and in language no different from that used by Germany in the 1930s.» And fact-checking followed by a Godwin point which did not amuse the BBC. The decision to suspend the presenter from Match of the Day “until an agreement is reached on the use of its social networks” for breaching his duty of impartiality has in turn sparked controversy.

There is no huge influx. We take far fewer refugees than other major European countries. This is just an immeasurably cruel policy directed at the most vulnerable people in language that is not dissimilar to that used by Germany in the 30s, and I’m out of order?

— Gary Lineker 💙💛 (@GaryLineker) March 7, 2023

A weekend of silence at the BBC

It was first his partners on the air, the other star scorers of the 90’s Ian Wright and Alan Shearer, who launched the sling, announcing to boycott the show in solidarity with Gary. Speechless, MOTD found itself reduced to a simple YouTube compilation format lasting 20 minutes, instead of the usual 80. This Sunday’s show has even been soberly renamed «Premier League Highlights». «The BBC will only have a limited sports offer this weekend», the public channel apologized. All of the Saturday sports broadcasts fell by the wayside at the last minute: Colin Murray refused to present his show Fighting Talk ; for his part, commentator Mark Chapman has withdrawn for this weekend; and finally Focus Footballon the menu on Saturday lunch with Alex Scott, was in turn deprogrammed, just like Final Score.

Chain reaction obliges, the PFA (Professional Footballer’s Association), players’ union across the Channel, declined post-match interviews in protest. A media storm which the English Interior Minister, currently visiting France, would have done well. Chance of the calendar, she therefore met in parallel with the controversy her counterpart Gérald Darmanin, himself promoter of a much criticized Asylum and Immigration bill last December.

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Impartiality, freedom of expression or political pressure?

An attack on freedom of expression for some, unworthy remarks for politicians and conservative editorialists, the affair unleashes passions. For Greg Dykethe former director general of the BBC (2000-2004) now affiliated with the Labor Party, the BBC has “undermined his credibility by appearing to give in to government pressure”. Implicated, Tim Davies, current director general and former member of the conservative party, denied for his part a possible resignation. “Impartiality, that thorny old concept”Write the Guardian recalling that the boss of the public channel, Richard Sharp, appointed on the advice of the British government, was the target of criticism in February the latter for helping Boris Johnson secure an £800,000 loan shortly before the latter backed his nomination.

The BBC undermined its credibility by appearing to bow to government pressure.

Greg Dyke, former director general of the BBC

The controversy is also part of a context marked by the social plan which affects the channel. Dependent on public subsidies granted by the Conservative government, the BBC is also accused of censoring an episode of the new documentary series by naturalist David Attenborough on the state of biodiversity in the United Kingdom, considered too critical against extensive agriculture. THE Guardian evokes a victory of lobbying and pressure from the conservatives, a version denied by the channel, forced into a delicate balancing act. The house presenter Nihal Arthanayake summarizes the problem: «Gary is asked to take a step back. But then why is a man who allegedly donated £400,000 to the Conservative Party still chairman of the BBC?» The other Gary, Neville, star presenter at rival Sky Sports and supporter of the Labor Party, did not fail to use his freedom of expression in a tweet castigating the «Tories and the system», before inviting his colleague to take advantage of his free time to have a drink with him. For a possible transfer? This time would not be a first in Gary Lineker’s career.

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