The BBC’s decision to suspend former footballer, presenter and media star Gary Lineker from his role at the helm of the popular show Match of the Day (the party of the day) for criticizing on social networks the new immigration policy of the Government of Rishi Sunak has unleashed an internal rebellion in the British public corporation and a public debate of unexpected dimensions. One after another, the big stars of BBC sports information have announced this Saturday that they will not sit in front of the cameras, in solidarity with Lineker. And former CEO of the corporation Greg Dyke has pointed out the risk that the public perceives the BBC as cowardly bowing to government pressure.
Like a sophisticated sleight of hand that diverts the viewer’s attention to the wrong side, the UK’s Conservative Party has for years railed against the BBC’s alleged left-wing bias as it invaded the command posts of the public corporation and undermined its financial and editorial independence.
Two clumsy and drastic decisions this week have exposed the weakness of a British institution that, until recently, was almost as untouchable as the monarchy itself. On Friday, the management of the entity decided to suspend Lineker from his position as presenter. The BBC yielded to pressure from conservative representatives and opinion leaders, and from the Minister of the Interior herself, Suella Braverman. Lineker came to compare the language used by the minister to defend the new law with the language used in Nazi Germany in the years before World War II. “This (the new bill) is simply an incredibly cruel political measure that targets the most vulnerable people, in language not much different from that used in Germany in the 1930s. And am I the one who has gone out of tune? ”, The ex-soccer player wrote on Twitter.
Braverman, married to a Jew, led the stream of angry responses Lineker garnered from conservatives. She accused the host of “demeaning the unspeakable tragedy” of the Holocaust (which the host never referred to) and described her comparison as “lazy and unhelpful.”
As soon as they found out that the BBC gave in to pressure and suspended the presenter, the rest of the program’s collaborators (Ian Wright, Alan Shearer or Jermaine Jenas) announced that they would not attend the set, in solidarity with Lineker. A full-fledged rebellion that led to a Saturday broadcast that is expected to have no presenters or commentators, only with the best images of the day’s matches.
Everybody knows what Match of the Day means to me, but I’ve told the BBC I won’t be doing it tomorrow. Solidarity.
—Ian Wright (@IanWright0) March 10, 2023
Not only the chain’s star sports program was affected. Other formats, like Soccer Focus either Final Score, they also had to withdraw from the screen due to the refusal of their staff to collaborate. The BBC has had to apologize to its staff and viewers for the gaps in the programming: “We are sorry for all these changes and understand that they will disappoint fans of BBC sports. We are working hard to resolve this situation and we hope to do so soon,” the corporation said in a statement.
“The BBC is not acting impartially by giving in to the pressures of all the Conservative MPs who have complained about Gary Lineker,” denounced the leader of the Labor opposition, Keir Starmer, who joined the thousands of commentators, athletes, fans and citizens who have exploded against the chain’s decision. “I’m with Gary. Immigrants are welcome”, read many of the banners displayed by fans of Leicester City, the first club the former footballer played for. Lineker has been seen with his son this Saturday in the match that faced the team against Chelsea.
The Association of Sports Journalists of Great Britain has issued a statement in which it shows “its full support for its partners and other colleagues in the profession in defense of freedom of expression”, affirms its solidarity with Lineker and warns that it will continue to pay attention. the development of the case.
In the middle of the afternoon this Saturday, Prime Minister Sunak, aware that the tide was clearly turning against his new immigration policy and the Conservative Party, tried to distance himself: “He is a great footballer and a very talented presenter” , has described Lineker, and has wanted his dispute with the BBC “to be resolved as soon as possible.” Officially, the network suspended the presenter while “they reached an agreement on his use of social networks.” Sunak has insisted that it is an internal matter of the chain in which the Government should not enter, and he has limited himself to defending his new project to put a stop to the migration crisis.
Concealment of David Attenborough
And this week, through an exclusive from the newspaper The Guardian, It was also known that the BBC had decided to remove it from its broadcast programming – to broadcast it only on its streaming BBC iPlayer—the sixth episode of Wild Isles (wild islands). It is a documentary about nature and the ecosystems that make up the United Kingdom, led by the naturalist David Attenborough, for whom the British feel a veneration only comparable to the one they felt in their day for Elizabeth II. The Conservative Journal The Daily Telegraph He had previously denounced that the BBC, with an increasingly limited budget to compete with other television platforms, had allowed two non-governmental organizations to produce and largely finance the documentaries. WWF UK (World Wildlife Fund) and RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds), which actively participate in British public and political debate, are not very liked by certain conservative sectors. His recent criticism of the relaxation of planning regulations across the country, pushed by the Sunak government, did not sit well with Downing Street.
WWF and RSPB produced and financed the sixth episode on their own, in which Attenborough also wanted to collaborate. They described in it the areas of the United Kingdom most depleted by man, and included some examples of the so-called rewilding, the method of allowing an ecosystem to return to its previous natural state. A way of removing power over nature from local authorities that especially irritates extreme right-wing groups.
“I think the facts speak for themselves. We have worked a lot with the RSPB, who have reviewed our scripts to check the data and have provided us with scientific information on the loss of wildlife in this country ”, he explained to Guardian Laura Howard, one of the people that Silverback Films, the producer of the series, put in charge of making the documentary.
The people in charge of the BBC decided that this episode, which they sensed would be the most criticized by politicians and conservative analysts, would be broadcast only by their service streaming. “The story is completely inaccurate,” the BBC responded to the suggestion of possible censorship. “There was never a sixth episode. Wild Isles It was always a documentary with five installments, which does not shy away from contributing environmental arguments. And we decided to separately acquire, for iPlayer, a film produced by Silverback Films, WWF and RSPB about the people who work to preserve and restore biodiversity in the British Isles”, defended the public corporation.
Conservative power at the BBC
The fight between the Conservative Party and the BBC is a classic. The tories they have always seen in the independence displayed by the entity in the news coverage an intolerable leftist bias. It did not matter that the institutionality demonstrated by the chain at moments such as the death of Prince Philip of Edinburgh, not to mention during the 10 days of mourning for Elizabeth II, was of such magnitude as to unleash furious criticism from the left.
The tension was compounded during the Brexit referendum campaign and the years after. The objective presentation of the disastrous consequences that analysts or businessmen predicted for the country due to its exit from the EU deeply irritated the eurosceptic sector, which dominated the Conservative Party.
It was the perfect storm for the BBC, because it coincided with a time of scarce resources and low audiences, seeing how much of its traditional audience migrated to new television platforms such as Netflix. In recent years there have been hundreds of layoffs and closure of local stations or international services in other languages. The corporation is financed with an annual fee of about 180 euros (159 pounds), which all users are obliged to pay at the risk of incurring an offense that can be sanctioned with a fine of more than 1,100 euros.
Recent conservative governments —especially that of Boris Johnson— have constantly brandished the threat of “decriminalizing” non-payment of the tax, which would mean that, in the absence of such pressure, many citizens would stop paying.
But in the midst of this tug of war, Downing Street has been placing his own in the public entity. The current president, Richard Sharp, is a former investment banker who has donated almost half a million euros to the Conservative Party, and who arranged for Boris Johnson to receive a loan of 900,000 euros when he was forced to reimburse the costs of decorating the residence officer in Downing Street while also having to make payments to his ex-wife, Marina Wheeler. Despite being investigated internally, Sharp made it clear that resigning was not on his mind.
Tim Davie, the current director general of the BBC, led the local Conservative Party chapter in the London Borough of Hammersmith-Fulham. He ran as a candidate in several local elections. Under his mandate, since September 2020, severe rules have been imposed on the entity’s workers regarding the use of social networks. He was the creator of the so-called lineker clausewhich extended the obligation to refrain from commenting on the policy to external collaborators in entertainment programs.
Robbie Gibb, who was former Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May’s government communication director, is now a member of the BBC’s Board of Directors. Prior to his Downing Street post, he was the network’s director of political programming.
The BBC has, or has had, notably conservative journalists on its payroll such as Andrew Neil, who ran the magazine The Spectator (the bible of the tories) or the Sunday Times of businessman Rupert Murdoch. Or Jeremy Clarkson, who in addition to presenting motor shows on the public channel, writes columns for the conservative tabloid the sun. In the last one, for which she had to apologize publicly, she wanted Meghan Markle, Prince Harry’s wife, “to be forced to parade naked through the streets of every city in the UK while the crowd yells ‘shame! ‘ and she throws excrement at him.”
Clarkson continues to work for the BBC. Lineker, for the moment, is out. And there are hundreds of thousands of citizens who have expressed their support on social networks for who was one of the best strikers in the world, and their outrage at the reprisals against an extremely popular presenter who limited himself to expressing his opinion —widely shared in the United Kingdom—on a law that leaves irregular immigrants stranded. As helpless, it seems, as the BBC viewers.
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