Britain's BBC faced a mounting crisis as a row over football presenter Gary Lineker's criticism of government migration policy forced a presenter mutiny, drew a comment from the Prime Minister and left the broadcaster's boss defending his position. The BBC was forced to axe much of its sports coverage on Saturday as presenters refused to work in solidarity with Lineker, after the BBC sought to defend its impartiality by taking Lineker off air due to his comments on social media. The Lineker row severely disrupted the BBC’s sports programming as multiple presenters walked out, prompting it to issue an apology.
Lineker, a former England soccer captain, the BBC’s highest-paid presenter and the anchor of the football highlights programme “Match of the Day”, was suspended from his role following his criticism of Britain’s migration policy. Critics of Lineker’s suspension say the BBC bowed to government pressure, leading to a furious debate about the impartiality of the national broadcaster. The furore followed Sunak's announcement of the new law earlier in the week. Lineker, 62, took to Twitter to describe the legislation as a "cruel policy directed at the most vulnerable people in language that is not dissimilar to that used by Germany in the 30s."
BBC Director General Tim Davie told the BBC on Saturday he had no intention of resigning over the matter. “We in the BBC, and myself, are absolutely driven by a passion for impartiality, not left, right or pandering to a particular party,” he said. Davie said he wanted Lineker back on the air and hoped to find a balance which enabled some presenters to express opinions while at the same time maintaining the BBC’s neutrality.
Nice impartial heading of ‘Gary Linekar’s tweet row’. How about ‘RW Tories’ row over tweet penned by GL that spoke truth to power & BBC Gov’t stooge Davie capitulated’. Not as snappy, I admit. And equally impartial. But more representative of the situation: #ImWithGary— Piper-Anna Shields (@Piper_Anna) March 12, 2023
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak issued a statement on Saturday defending the migration policy, which bars the entry of asylum seekers arriving in small boats across the English Channel, saying he hoped Lineker and the BBC could resolve their differences in a timely manner. “It is rightly a matter for them, not the government,” Sunak said.
The BBC is committed to being politically impartial, but has faced criticism from the Conservative and Labour parties about how neutral it actually is, particularly in the era of social media when high-profile presenters can easily make their personal positions known.The opposition Labour Party and media commentators accuse the BBC of silencing Lineker, after Sunak's spokeswoman called Lineker's comments "unacceptable" and interior minister Suella Braverman said they were "offensive". "The BBC is not acting impartially by caving in to Tory MPs who are complaining about Gary Lineker," Labour leader Keir Starmer told reporters at a conference in Wales on Saturday.