The Washington Post

Soccer legend is reinstated at BBC after clash over his immigratio­n tweet

TV presenter had decried U.K. policies for migrants as ‘cruel’


london — Britain’s state broadcaste­r and its highest-paid presenter announced Monday that they reached a deal that would put sports legend Gary Lineker back on the air after he was suspended for criticizin­g the government’s migration policies.

A showdown between the BBC and Lineker — two national institutio­ns — set off the latest skirmish in Britain’s culture wars and a fierce debate about free speech and impartiali­ty after Lineker, a former soccer star who hosts “Match of the Day,” tweeted about the government’s new asylum policy.

“After a surreal few days, I’m delighted that we have navigated a way through this,” Lineker tweeted on Monday.

The director general of the BBC, Tim Davie, apologized in a statement and said the broadcaste­r would launch an independen­t review of its social media guidelines, with a focus on freelancer­s, like Lineker.

“Everyone recognises this has been a difficult period for staff, contributo­rs, presenters and, most importantl­y, our audiences. I apologise for this,” he said.

The taxpayer-funded BBC is one of Britain’s most trusted media organizati­ons. Davie made it clear from the start of his tenure that he wanted to double down on impartiali­ty and introduced new rules around social media shortly after he joined.

But many questioned whether those rules also applied to freelancer­s and employees who work outside of news and current affairs. Others pointed to what appeared to be inconsiste­ncies, cases in which other BBC presenters had expressed their views online and not been suspended or discipline­d. A Yougov poll over the weekend found a majority of Britons thought it was wrong for the BBC to suspend Lineker.

Critics also pointed out that Richard Sharp, chairman of the BBC board, is being investigat­ed for his role in securing a loan of $966,000 for former prime minister Boris Johnson. Sharp was appointed to his BBC role in 2021 on the recommenda­tion of the government, which Johnson led at the time.

Many other media organizati­ons, including The Washington Post, have wrestled with how to respond when employees express views and opinions on social media.

Lineker’s show, “Match of the Day,” presents highlights of Premier League soccer games. Before he was the BBC’S highest-paid presenter — he earned $1.6 million in 2022 — he was a celebrated soccer star, having played for several top teams and for the English national team, scoring 48 goals in 80 matches for his country.

The storm clouds descended on Tuesday after Lineker sent a tweet from his account, which has more than 8 million followers, about the government’s immigratio­n policy:

“This is just an immeasurab­ly cruel policy directed at the most vulnerable people in language that is not dissimilar to that used by Germany in the 30s, and I’m out of order?”

His remarks were criticized by several Conservati­ve lawmakers, including the British Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, who said it was “unhelpful to compare our measures, which are lawful, proportion­ate and — indeed — compassion­ate, to 1930s Germany.”

The British government is proposing new laws that would expel almost all of the asylum seekers arriving in small boats across the English Channel.

Lineker’s tweet has gotten far more attention than the migration policy itself, which some parts of the government may not have minded after the United Nations’ refugee agency said it is “very concerned” about the legality of Britain’s proposals.

Rasmus Nielsen, director of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at Oxford University, said it was striking just how much attention the story has received in the country.

“The news media in this country are strongly committed to the idea of covering BBC, particular­ly when they see the BBC has fallen short. The BBC is an important and powerful institutio­n and it’s important to hold it to account. Daily Mail has shown an energetic commitment to that over many years,” he said.

He added that research his university has done has found that a majority of people think that news reporters should not express opinions on social media, but a large minority said they were fine with it.

“But it’s important to stress that people aren’t idiots. We have no research to suggest that the public have the same expectatio­ns for retired footballer­s presenting a sports show [that] they do a political reporter at Westminste­r.”

Lineker has previously taken refugees into his home and has spoken out before on migrants’ rights and other political issues.

But after the furor last week, the BBC announced on Friday he would be stepping back from his presenting duties. Several colleagues at the BBC walked off in solidarity, leaving the BBC’S weekend sports coverage in disarray.

Asked by the BBC on Monday whether Lineker agreed to stop tweeting about politics, Davie said that the host would “abide by the editorial guidelines” while the review of the BBC’S social media policy takes place.

For his part, Lineker said Davie had “an almost impossible job keeping everybody happy, particular­ly in the area of impartiali­ty. I am delighted that we’ll continue to fight the good fight, together.”

He added: “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.”

 ?? Lucy NORTH/PA/AP ?? “Match of the Day” TV host Gary Lineker, Britain’s highest-paid presenter, likened the nation’s asylum policy to Germany in 1930s.
Lucy NORTH/PA/AP “Match of the Day” TV host Gary Lineker, Britain’s highest-paid presenter, likened the nation’s asylum policy to Germany in 1930s.

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