Date: 18th March 2023
This week’s first blog from our resident writer Donald Stewart.
Drawing a Lineker in your Free Speech
Match of the Day shall be presented by nobody. There shall be no punditry, perhaps meaning that the amount of footage shall be increased to fill the timeslot allocated to the flagship English football programme.
Because the presenter tweeted that the language being used by the current Conservative Government is reminiscent of 1930’s Germany.
But if you are the guy at the front of a sports programme and a former English international of some renown, then people will read your tweet and will respond. Some shall do so in support whilst others shall voice their opposition. In a sense what has been lost is the veracity of his statement. It has not ended well for the state broadcaster.
Because impartiality has been used to suggest that Lineker has fallen foul of the rules.
The rules are that he should remain impartial in all aspects of public life whilst being paid a fortune in such a high profile job.
High profile celebrities have used their influence to shine a light on many things – some of which I agree with, and some of which I do not. I am no fan of Andrew Neil and whilst he was a BBC journalist, being paid a fortune to front a high profile politics programme he was well versed on twitter tweeting stuff. Most of his twitterings I did not agree with and there were certain aspects of his interviewing technique I also found exceptionally partisan.
But he had a right to do it and I had a right to switch him off and find something else to watch.
Which I did.
Lineker has never, to my knowledge ever spoken out whilst on Match of the Day about anything other than football.
Neither he should – I do not tune in to hear it.
That the BBC are now having a word to negotiate a social media protocol to follow is quite normal. In a lot of employment your behaviours outside of your work can affect how your work is scheduled – getting a conviction can end up with you being asked to leave if what you have done is incompatible with your role. If you are an employee.
If you are freelance it is much easier to be dropped if what you believe does not match the ethos of the organisation who have engaged your services. Like Lineker.
And so, the BBC have a problem. Sky had a problem a few years ago when they wanted their Sky Sports presenters to wear badges that suggested support for Black Lives Matters. There are BBC presenters who are made to wear the red poppy and not allowed the white one. Some Sky presenters, notably Matt Le Tissier, came out afterwards, after he was let go by Sky, to say he found
that difficult and there have, I am sure, been some instances of presenters uncomfortable with the red poppy whilst the name of Earl Haig was still on their tins.
It’s a farcical state of affairs and the BBC have been left quite red in the face as the backlash has opened up some of the most fundamental issues facing our society. With their licence fee debate close at hand, this is the wrong moment to back yourself into a corner. Unless you believe you are right.
If the BBC believe they have a point and they are rightly working towards a universal solution which would benefit the entire fabric of their institution then what ought they to do next?
They have a right to expect those people associated with them to behave in a certain way, however the stand that they have taken – that an independent person contracted to them, should not publicly speak out – is morally questionable. What they ought to have done if they believed this was a breach of their guidelines is sack Lineker.
Lineker shall not back down. But he is no Jeremy Clarkson. Gray Lineker is not a divisive character who has an influential constituency of people who feel marginalised in today’s media backing him. He does not have a vocal and powerful lobby of friends who shall politically call out for him to go back in, whilst they have an inordinate amount of influence over the institution with which he is battling.
Gary Lineker is far more popular than that.
The one winner here, to my mind, is Gary Lineker. The constant losers are the marginalised communities about whom he was speaking, being abandoned by a country that should be proud of its welcoming of the Kindertransport and the Windrush Generation, or the Ugandan Asians. Increasingly we are paltry in our welcome, paltry in our responses and paltry in our expectations of how other countries see us.
That’s the true tragedy that should not be lost.
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