After Weekend Chaos, BBC Backs Down

Popular host and former soccer star Gary Lineker reinstated after he critiqued deportation policy
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Mar 13, 2023 10:00 AM CDT
BBC Backs Down in Soccer Uproar
Match Of The Day host Gary Lineker leaves his home in London, Monday, March 13, 2023. Lineker will return to the airwaves after the BBC reversed the former soccer great's suspension on Monday for a post on Twitter that had criticized the British government’s new asylum policy.   (James Manning/PA via AP)

The BBC called a truce Monday in its showdown with sports commentator Gary Lineker, reversing its suspension of the former soccer great for a tweet that criticized the UK. As the AP reports, the about-face followed a weekend of chaos and crisis for Britain's publicly funded national broadcaster, which faced a huge backlash after sidelining one of its best-known hosts because he expressed a political opinion. "Gary is a valued part of the BBC and I know how much the BBC means to Gary, and I look forward to him presenting our coverage this coming weekend," BBC Director-General Tim Davie said. Lineker, 62, said he was "glad that we have found a way forward."

Lineker, one of England's most lauded players and the corporation's highest-paid television presenter, was suspended Friday after he described the government's plan to detain and deport migrants arriving by boat as "an immeasurably cruel policy directed at the most vulnerable people in language that is not dissimilar to that used by Germany in the 30s." The Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail—two right-leaning newspapers long critical of the BBC—expressed outrage over what they described in headlines as Lineker's "Nazi" comment, although he had not used that word. The Conservative government called Lineker's comparison offensive and unacceptable, and some lawmakers said the BBC should terminate his contract. The broadcaster had said that Lineker would be "stepping back" until he agreed to keep his tweets within BBC impartiality rules.

Critics accused it of suppressing free speech, and the BBC was forced to scrap much of its weekend sports programming after commentators, analysts, and Premier League players refused to appear on the air as a show of support for Lineker. The flagship Match of the Day program was reduced from the usual 90 minutes of highlights and analysis to a 20-minute compilation of clips from the day's games, without commentary or punditry. Davie insisted Monday that the BBC "did the right thing" by suspending Lineker, but that there would now be an independent review of its social media rules to address "gray areas" in the guidelines. "Between now and when the review reports, Gary will abide by the editorial guidelines," he said.

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Davie said the BBC "has a commitment to impartiality in its Charter," as well as a commitment to freedom of expression. "That is a difficult balancing act to get right," he said. Lineker said it had been "a surreal few days" and thanked colleagues for their support. And he showed no signs of stopping his use of social media. "A final thought: However difficult the last few days have been, it simply doesn't compare to having to flee your home from persecution or war to seek refuge in a land far away," he tweeted to his 8.8 million followers. "It's heartwarming to have seen the empathy towards their plight from so many of you."

(More BBC stories.)

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