BBC sport coverage in disarray over Gary Lineker free speech row | Media News

BBC sports presenter Gary Lineker has been suspended after criticizing the UK government’s new asylum policy.

The BBC’s sports service was thrown into chaos on Saturday when commentators refused to work in support of presenter Gary Lineker, who was suspended after criticizing the government’s new migration policy.

The 62-year-old compared the language used to introduce the new policy to that of Nazi Germany on Twitter, in what the BBC on Friday described as a “violation of our policies”.

The broadcaster said Lineker will “step back” from presenting Match of the Day — a Saturday night game since 1964 and the longest-running football television show in the world — until it has agreed on a clear position on its use of social media.

The decision unleashed a wave of condemnation from hosts and co-hosts boycotting their duties for Saturday’s football round and forcing the television and radio broadcast service to decimate its scheduled programming.

Pundits and former England strikers Ian Wright and Alan Shearer tweeted that they would not be taking on their usual roles on the match of the day, followed by the show’s commentators.

Wright then said on his podcast on Saturday that he would leave the BBC if Lineker were finally fired.

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The BBC’s move sparked a debate over freedom of expression, as well as a wave of criticism from politicians and public figures, many of whom accused her of giving in to the demands of conservative lawmakers.

“It’s absolutely insane that the UK has become a country where having an opinion can cost you your job. If we don’t value and strictly protect freedom of expression, even if we personally despise views, we are no better than totalitarian regimes like China and North Korea,” said TV host Piers Morgan.

Labor Party leader Keir Starmer accused the BBC of “giving in” to Conservative Party members’ demands.

“The BBC is not acting impartially in giving in to Tory MPs who complain about Gary Lineker,” Starmer said.

Despite the deepening crisis, BBC director-general Tim Davie said he would not be stepping down.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the dispute was a matter for the broadcaster, not the government.

“I hope the current situation between Gary Lineker and the BBC can be resolved in a timely manner, but it is rightly their business, not the government,” he said in a statement.

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“A tremendous own goal”

The BBC announced that the highlights show would be broadcast for the first time without any experts or presenters.

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It also said players would not be asked for interviews after some indicated they would not be available to support Lineker.

Weekend preview show Football Focus and results program Final Score were also pulled from the schedule due to presenter and pundits being absent.

Saturday sport schedules for BBC Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have also been changed.

“We apologize for these changes, which we recognize will be disappointing for BBC sports fans,” the broadcaster said. “We are working hard to resolve the situation and hope to do so soon.”

The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) described the crackdown on Lineker as a “massive own goal by the BBC”.

NUJ Secretary-General Michelle Stanistreet added: “Giving in to sustained political pressure in this way is as foolish as it is dangerous.”

Manchester City fan with a sign in support of BBC presenter Gary Lineker at a stadium [Tony Obrien/Reuters]

Lineker is a freelance broadcaster for the BBC, not a permanent staff member and is not responsible for news or political content, so does not have to adhere to the same strict rules of impartiality as staff working in the news sector.

The spat was sparked by Lineker’s response to a video in which Home Secretary Suella Braverman revealed plans to stop asylum seekers from crossing the English Channel on small boats.

Lineker, the BBC’s highest-paid star, wrote on Twitter: “This is just an immeasurably cruel policy aimed at the most vulnerable, in language not unlike that of Germany in the 1930s.”

The conservative government intends to ban asylum applications from all irregular arrivals and move them to other countries such as Rwanda to halt crossings, which totaled more than 45,000 last year.

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Some 36 Tory lawmakers have sent a letter to the BBC warning that the affair “will undoubtedly shake many people’s already tenuous confidence in the company’s impartiality”.

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