A number of BBC TV and radio sports shows were pulled from the air this weekend as presenters, football stars and commentators boycotted the broadcaster, including Saturday Night Sports, Match of the Day, which holds a Guinness World Record as the longest-running football TV show in history.
It began when the British government proposed this week that almost all asylum seekers arriving in small boats across the English Channel should be sent to their home country or to a “safe third country” such as Rwanda. The bill was criticized by human rights groups and the United Nations described it as a “flagrant violation” of international law.
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Among the critics was the former England football captain The star has become TV pundit Gary Lineker, who hosts Match of the Day, which describes itself as “the most famous football show in the world” and is watched by millions.
Lineker slammed the government’s proposal as an “immeasurably cruel policy aimed at the most vulnerable”. tweet On Tuesday, it compared the government’s language to the language “used by Germany in the 1930s”.
It drew reactions from both sides of the political spectrum. A lot of called he should stay away from politics and stick to football others supported him as the moral conscience of the people.
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Conservative politicians Lineker’s tweets were criticized and his employer, the BBC, came under pressure right-wing commentators to sanction it.
Broadcaster — one of the most trusted news sources and producer of the nation’s most popular television entertainment—is publicly funded and has strict neutrality and social media guidelines that prevent its news staff from expressing controversial opinions. subjects.
After a day of pressure, the BBC said on Friday that Lineker’s social media activity had “breached” its guidelines, so Lineker “Back off from presenting Match of the Day until an agreed and clear position is reached on his use of social media.”
The reaction was swift.
Lineker’s teammates and sideline commentators said they would not attend the Match of the Day in “solidarity” with Lineker, and fans began calling for players not to be interviewed by the BBC after the match.
The BBC was forced to announce that it would broadcast Match of the Day in an open studio format without presenters or pundits. The boycott has spread to other BBC sports shows, leading to last-minute withdrawal of hours of footage, the BBC said.
The hashtags #ImWithGary and #BoycottBBC trended on Twitter on Saturday as people vowed to boycott the show, while a petition to reinstate Lineker has so far attracted nearly 180,000 signatures.
Everyone knows what Match of the Day means to me, but I told the BBC I’m not doing it tomorrow. Cooperation.
— Ian Wright (@IanWright0) March 10, 2023
Britain has an opposition Labor Party called The BBC’s decision was “cowardly” and “an attack on freedom of expression”, while the National Union of Journalists described it as “a lot of personal gain”, adding that “this kind of capitulation to sustained political pressure is both stupid and dangerous”. »
The BBC, which denies it is under political pressure, did not respond to The Washington Post’s request for comment.
The general mood in the BBC newsroom on Friday evening was one of shock, said a journalist working there who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity about his workplace.
The journalist joked that when they left the building for the day they would remove the BBC sign – a reference to how popular Lineker was with the public and how controversial the controversy was in the UK.
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Employees’ use of social media, impartiality, and expression of opinion have been the subject of constant controversy and debate, including at The Washington Post.
However, many of Lineker’s supporters argue that the BBC’s impartiality guidelines are aimed at news staff rather than pundits or sports presenters. The BBC has previously argued that as one of the BBC’s most popular stars, Lineker has been given an “extra responsibility”.
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Alan Rusbridger, a British press pundit and former newspaper editor, told The Post on Saturday that the focus on Lineker and the BBC could be a “godsend” for the government, distracting them from the core issue of immigration and asylum.
“Everyone is arguing about Gary Lineker, not the policies he just announced,” he said.
He said the BBC had many “enemies”, from commercial competitors to political parties of all stripes, and had a tough job upholding strict neutrality rules. “There is a culture war going on here. The BBC will be drawn to it because it has a huge output in music, sport, politics and current affairs.”
“There’s going to be something that upsets the culture warriors one way or the other.”
It’s absolutely insane that the UK has become a country where being opinionated can cost you your job. If we don’t value and fiercely protect freedom of speech, even for our personal views, we are no better than totalitarian regimes like China and North Korea.
— Piers Morgan (@piersmorgan) March 11, 2023
Greg Dyke, the former director general of the BBC, made a rare statement against the company he runs on Saturday, saying “the BBC has damaged its own credibility” with Lineker’s failure. “There’s a longstanding precedent at the BBC that if you’re an entertainment presenter or a sports presenter, you’re not subject to those rules,” he said of the company’s impartiality guidelines.
However, the BBC’s current director-general, Tim Davey, backed the broadcaster’s decision. say A BBC reporter said: “We always try to be proportionate, and we have done that.”
Lineker, who has previously opened his home to at least two refugees, has been an outspoken critic of the government over asylum and has previously been reprimanded by the BBC. He has not yet commented publicly on his sanction, and his representatives did not immediately respond to The Post’s request for comment.
However, at the beginning of the week he tweeted He thanked his supporters. “I want to thank each of you. … I try to speak for the poor people who don’t have a voice.”
Helier Cheung in London contributed to this report.