Britain’s BBC faced a growing crisis when a dispute over football presenter Gary Lineker’s criticism of the government’s immigration policy forced a presenter into mutiny, prompted a comment from the prime minister and left the station chief defending himself. assumption.
The BBC was forced to remove much of its sports coverage on Saturday because presenters refused to work in solidarity with Lineker, after the BBC tried to defend its impartiality by taking Lineker off the air due to his comments on social media.
Lineker, a former England soccer captain, the BBC’s highest-paid presenter and host of the soccer highlights show “Match of the Day,” has been suspended from his post following his criticism of Britain’s immigration policy.
Critics of Lineker’s suspension say the BBC caved in to government pressure, sparking a furious debate over the impartiality of the national broadcaster.
BBC director general Tim Davie told the BBC on Saturday that he had no intention of resigning over the matter. “We at the BBC, and myself, are absolutely driven by a passion for fairness, not left, right or pandering to any particular party,” he said.
Davie said he wanted Lineker back on the air and hoped to find a balance that would allow some presenters to express opinions while also maintaining the BBC’s neutrality.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak issued a statement on Saturday defending the immigration policy, which bars the entry of asylum seekers arriving on small boats via the English Channel, and said he hoped Lineker and the BBC could resolve their differences timely manner.
“No wonder it’s their business, not the government’s,” Sunak said.
The Lineker feud severely disrupted the BBC’s sports programming on Saturday when several presenters walked out, prompting him to apologize.
The Saturday edition of “Match of the Day”, presented by Lineker for more than 20 years, aired in regular timeslot despite his absence, but was cut to just 20 minutes and aired as a highlights show with no commentary .
The BBC is committed to being politically impartial but has faced criticism from the Conservative and Labor parties over how neutral it really is, particularly in the age of social media when high-profile presenters can easily make their personal positions known.
Opposition Labor Party and media commentators accuse the BBC of silencing Lineker, after Sunak’s spokeswoman called Lineker’s comments “unacceptable” and Home Secretary Suella Braverman said they were ” offensive”.
“The BBC is not being impartial in caving in to Conservative MPs who are complaining about Gary Lineker,” Labor leader Keir Starmer told reporters at a conference in Wales on Saturday.
Lineker refused to comment to the media as he left his London home on Saturday and did not answer questions from reporters upon his arrival at the King Power Stadium in Leicester, where he went to watch one of his former clubs play.
The furor comes after Sunak announced the new law earlier in the week. Lineker, 62, took to Twitter to describe the legislation as a “cruel policy targeting the most vulnerable people in language not unlike that used by Germany in the 1930s.”
Seeking to resolve the dispute, the BBC said there must be an agreed position on Lineker’s use of social media before he can present again. But critics of Lineker’s suspension say he is entitled to his personal opinions because he is not a newscaster.
Greg Dyke, who was the BBC’s director general from 2000 to 2004, told BBC radio on Saturday that the BBC had made a mistake.
“The perception will be that Gary Lineker, a much-loved television presenter, was taken off the air after government pressure on a particular issue,” Dyke said.
That could turn viewers away from the 100-year-old BBC, which is funded by an annual £159 ($192) “licence fee” tax on all TV-watching households.
While the broadcaster remains a central presence in British cultural life, it is struggling to stay relevant with younger audiences and faces threats to its funding as some Conservative lawmakers want to scrap license fees.
Questions about BBC president Richard Sharp pose an additional challenge for the broadcaster.
Sharp is under pressure for not declaring his involvement in arranging a loan for former Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson shortly before he was appointed to the post. Sharp’s appointment, made on the government’s recommendation, is under review by Britain’s public appointments watchdog.