The backlash was enough to disrupt the weekend programmes thanks to staff, analysts and players demonstrating their solidarity with Lineker
There is rum irony in the fact that the BBC, avowedly a fierce defender of media freedom and fearless critic of governments at home and abroad, was forced to backtrack in calling a truce with its well-known sports commentator Gary Lineker who presents a popular show named “Match of the Day”. The former soccer great was hurriedly called back after being suspended for taking a critical view of a contentious new migration policy. And, as irony of ironies go, it is two immigrants who made it big in the UK political system — Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and home secretary Suella Braverman — who are backing this new policy to the hilt.
Lineker, the highest paid sports presenter of the publicly funded broadcaster, is a freelancer, despite which the BBC, its chairman, who is a political appointee, and its director-general enforced its in-house rules against expressing opinions of a political nature, on today’s ubiquitous social media. The backlash was sufficiently enough to disrupt the weekend programmes thanks to staff, analysts and players demonstrating their solidarity with Lineker.
The crux of the problem was the virtually ‘woke’ reaction from Lineker on the Conservative government’s plan to stop illegal immigrants from reaching the UK in small boats that try to ferry them clandestinely. Anyone attempting such a crossing would be declared an illegal alien and detained and deported to their home country, or even a third country. Such a xenophobic stand might go down well with the electorate, who may have become a tad disillusioned with Sunak’s rule, but the scheme may breach international law, as admitted by his government itself.
The paragon of free speech, as the BBC is often described by critics whenever foreign governments take up cudgels against its ‘impartial’ coverage, was caught on the wrong foot when the Tories bristled at Lineker’s comparisons of Sunak and Suella’s UK government’s anti-immigrant law to a fascist era in Germany. Suddenly, it appeared speech wasn’t all that free, after all, even in a liberal democracy.
In the social media era of a polarised world, when every critical opinion comes more like a hangman’s noose, those who take offence are as numerous as those who judge. What we don’t have is the wisdom of the one who said — “Let him cast the first stone.”