A British national broadcaster’s self-proclaimed “world’s most famous football show” has been an unlikely lightning rod for a fiery debate about British government policy.
But on Saturday March 11, the BBC’s Match of the Day was at the center of a row that went to the top of UK politics.
The chaos was sparked by a tweet from host Gary Lineker in response to the UK government’s new illegal immigration bill – a set of laws designed to stop people crossing the channel in small boats to seek asylum.
His original reaction The tweet “good heavens this is beyond awful” along with a video of Home Secretary Suella Braverman saying “enough is enough. We need to stop the boats’ may have ruffled a few feathers, but it was he who added to the social media thread that lit the fire.
“There is not much inflow. We accept far fewer refugees than other major European countries. This is just an immeasurably harsh policy aimed at the most vulnerable people in language not dissimilar to what Germany used in the 1930s, and I’m out of business?’ He He wrote.
Lineker never actually used the word “Nazi”, but for Braverman he might have.
Her response showed that not only was one of Britain’s most powerful politicians paying attention to a football presenter’s tweets about her politics, he was taking it seriously.
“I think it is, from a personal point of view, to hear that the designation is offensive because – as you said – my husband is Jewish, so my children are direct descendants of people who were murdered in gas chambers during the Holocaust,” Braverman told the BBC Political Thinking podcast.
“Rejecting such false proportions diminishes the unspeakable tragedy that millions of people went through and I don’t think anything that is happening in the UK today can come close to what happened in the Holocaust.”
This response proved to be only the beginning of an even greater escalation, Lineker’s tweet somehow ending up at the top of the country’s news agenda.
Riddle of impartiality
Culture Secretary Lucy Fraser told the British parliament “as someone whose grandmother escaped Nazi Germany” she thought the comparison was inappropriate.
Frazer also suggested it was wrong for the presenter to express such views as a representative of a national broadcaster.
This view quickly gained traction because, unlike other media outlets, BBC employees are supposed to adhere to strict rules about impartiality.
These range from journalists hiding visible branding on clothing during live broadcasts so as not to be seen as endorsing a product, to sometimes controversial decisions about the source of speakers on both sides of a debate in live televised debates .
Adherence to this principle has been made much more difficult by social media which blurs the lines between the personal and professional actions of BBC staff.
Opinions or preferences that would normally never get beyond a reporter’s family and friends are broadcast to millions of people these days, and judging what was unbiased is a more difficult task.
In the case of Lineker, who has become quite an outspoken personality on social media, there was a useful loophole the company used to escape policing his online activity. he wasn’t technically an employee.
Like many of the other more famous artists on the national broadcaster Lineker is hired as a freelancer, which not only allows him to do first coverage for other media but also, until now, has meant that he is not subject to his instructions in the same way.
As long as he didn’t launch into political discourse while presenting one of the shows he would be fine, he was, after all, a sports broadcaster and therefore unlikely to handle such matters.
However, faced with a barrage of criticism from senior government politicians over Lineker’s comments, the BBC was willing to take another look at that stance.
After saying he was “in discussions” with the presenter, he was eventually asked to “step back” from presenting Match of the Day.
But this was only the beginning of more drama.
The Premier League is involved
Starting with regular pundits former Arsenal star Ian Wright and Newcastle legend Alan Shearer, but quickly expanding to fringe figures such as ex-Brighton forward Glenn Murray, the on-screen talent refused to go on air in solidarity with Lineker.
Suddenly the BBC found that presenters for entirely separate football shows were refusing to work while Lineker’s situation was unresolved and faced the prospect of either cancellations or radical changes to the formats.
As is increasingly the case, the next group to get involved were the players and clubs who reportedly discussed whether speaking to the BBC would be considered a “political act”.
Perhaps to head off any embarrassing situations that could unfold, the BBC withdrew all of his television interviews.
But it turned out they weren’t going to be spared the blushes, because as the first Premier League game since the crisis ended, Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp was asked to comment on the situation anyway.
“I’m not sure if it’s a language issue or not, but that’s the world we live in. Everyone wants to worry so much about doing things the right way, saying the right things. If you don’t do that, then you’re creating a ***storm, it’s a really hard world to live in,” he told reporters.
Before adding: “If I understand it correctly, it is a message, a view on human rights and that should be possible to say.”
Hearing a Premier League manager discuss a tweet about government policy that has thrown a national broadcaster into disarray perhaps shouldn’t come as a surprise.
Since the stance taken by football players in relation to the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020, the separation between sports and politics has almost disappeared.
From debates about the ethics of who is hosting a World Cup to social media posts about government policy. dealing with these issues is English football’s new reality.