Gary Lineker, the BBC's highest-paid presenter and former England football captain, has been suspended from presenting the flagship programme Match of the Day (MOTD) after making comments critical of the UK government's migration policy on social media.
Lineker retweeted a video of interior minister Suella Braverman discussing the policy, which seeks to prevent migrants arriving by boat across the Channel from claiming asylum and to deport them either to their home countries or to 'safe third countries'.
Lineker criticised the migration policy
Lineker described the migration policy as "immeasurably cruel" and compared the government's language to that used in Nazi Germany. Lineker in his tweet said, "There is no huge influx. We take far fewer refugees than other major European countries. 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?"
The comments were criticised by a spokeswoman for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who said they were "not acceptable".
BBC claims Lineker breached its impartiality guidelines
After talks with Lineker and his team, the BBC said it had taken 'proportionate action' and required an 'agreed and clear position' on his use of social media before he could return to presenting MOTD. The broadcaster's Director General, Tim Davie, said the decision was a result of a 'serious breach' of the BBC's impartiality guidelines. The move was criticised by the Bectu union, which represents thousands of BBC workers, as 'deeply concerning'.
Lineker has been presenting MOTD for over 20 years and is known for his outspoken views on political issues. However, the BBC has insisted that its presenters should not take sides on political controversies or party political issues. Last year, Lineker was found by the BBC's complaints unit to have failed to meet editorial standards on impartiality when he tweeted asking whether the governing Conservative Party would give back money from Russian donors.
About BBC's impartiality
The suspension of Lineker has sparked a wider debate about the BBC's impartiality and its relationship with the government. The broadcaster is funded by a license fee tax on all television-watching households and has a central presence in British cultural life. It has a responsibility to be politically impartial and is committed to upholding this standard. However, critics have accused the BBC of bowing to political pressure and compromising its impartiality.
Show's format changed after Lineker's suspension
The suspension of Lineker also had wider implications for MOTD, as four of its regular pundits – former England players Ian Wright, Alan Shearer, Jermaine Jenas and Micah Richards – said they would not appear on the programme without Lineker. As a result, the BBC said that Saturday's edition of the programme would "focus on match action without studio presentation or punditry".
Lineker has not yet commented on his suspension, but his previous statements suggest that he is committed to speaking up for those who are vulnerable and do not have a voice. His suspension has raised questions about the role of public figures in commenting on political issues, the responsibilities of the media to be impartial, and the relationship between the government and the media.
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