BBC sports presenters refuse to work after the presenter was suspended for criticizing Britain’s migrant policy

Former British footballer and BBC presenter Gary Lineker leaves his home in London on Saturday as the public broadcaster comes under fire for suspending the star anchor.  (Henry Nicholls/Reuters - photo credit)

Former British footballer and BBC presenter Gary Lineker leaves his home in London on Saturday as the public broadcaster comes under fire for suspending the star anchor. (Henry Nicholls/Reuters – photo credit)

Britain’s BBC was forced to halt much of its sports coverage on Saturday after presenters refused to work in a show of solidarity with Gary Lineker as a row over freedom of expression threatens to become a crisis for the national broadcaster.

Former England football captain Lineker, the BBC’s highest paid presenter and the presenter of the Football Highlights programme game of the daywas pulled from the channel on Friday after criticizing Britain’s migration policy earlier in the week.

Many sports programs did not air as planned on Saturday after several presenters left, prompting the BBC to apologize to viewers.

“We are working hard to resolve the situation and hope to do so soon,” the broadcaster said in a statement.

BBC director-general Tim Davie said on Saturday he would not be stepping down because of the crisis.

The Lineker row has sparked a debate over the BBC’s neutrality and pitted the government against one of the country’s best-known and best-loved sports presenters.

Lineker declined to comment to the media as he left his home in London on Saturday and did not respond to reporters’ questions upon his arrival at Leicester’s King Power Stadium, where he was watching his former club’s game.

Compare with Nazi rhetoric

The excitement comes after British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced new law earlier in the week banning the entry of asylum seekers arriving in small boats across the English Channel.

CLOCK | UK government under fire after dozens of migrants drown:

Lineker, 62, described the legislation on Twitter as “cruel policies aimed at the most vulnerable, in language not dissimilar to that used in Germany in the 1930s”.

Sunak issued a statement on Saturday defending the policy and said he hoped Lineker and the BBC could settle their differences in time.

“It’s rightly their business, not the government,” Sunak said, adding that it’s important to keep perspective given the seriousness of the migration problem, which has seen 45,000 people risk their lives crossing the Channel illegally last year .

Home Secretary Suella Braverman said Lineker’s reaction to the policy was “insulting”.

To settle the dispute, the BBC said there needed to be an agreed position on Lineker’s use of social media before he could return to presenting.

BBC neutrality under scrutiny

The BBC has committed itself to political impartiality but has faced criticism from the Conservatives and Labor parties for how neutral it actually is, particularly in the age of social media, which is used by high-profile presenters to publicize their personal positions.

Davie unveiled a 10-point impartiality plan in 2021 after a string of disputes, but none have unfolded like the current one. He said Saturday he would not be stepping down over the Lineker matter.

Henry Nicholls/Reuters

Henry Nicholls/Reuters

The opposition Labor Party and media commentators have accused the BBC of silencing Lineker and bowing to pressure from the Conservative government.

“The BBC is not acting impartially in giving in to Tory MPs who complain about Gary Lineker,” Labor leader Keir Starmer told reporters at a conference in Wales on Saturday.

Transmitter under fire

However, critics of Lineker’s suspension say he is entitled to his personal opinion because he does not present a newscast.

Greg Dyke, who was the BBC’s director-general between 2000 and 2004, told BBC radio earlier on Saturday that the BBC had made a mistake in taking Lineker off the air because it gave the impression that the government could do with the broadcaster say what he has to do.

“The perception out there will be that Gary Lineker, a very popular TV presenter, has been shut down due to government pressure on a certain issue,” he said.

Andrew Boyers /Action Pictures via Reuters

Andrew Boyers /Action Pictures via Reuters

That could turn viewers away from the 100-year-old BBC, which is actually funded by a $192 annual “royalty” for all television households.

While the channel remains a central presence in British cultural life, it is struggling to stay relevant with younger viewers and faces threats to its funding as some Conservative lawmakers want to scrap the license fee.

Questions about BBC chairman Richard Sharp pose another challenge for the broadcaster.

Sharp is under pressure for failing to explain his involvement in arranging a loan for former Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson shortly before his appointment. Sharp’s appointment, which came on government recommendation, is now under scrutiny by the UK’s public appointments regulator.

HEAR | Migrants risk their lives to reach British shores:


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