EXCLUSIVE: Senior BBC journalists are furious at Gary Lineker’s “egregious” breach of impartiality rules after he compared UK government asylum policy to 1930s Nazi Germany.
Deadline has spoken to a number of sources in the BBC newsroom who said that their mission to cover news objectively had been damaged by Lineker’s tweets on Tuesday. They urged Tim Davie, the BBC director-general, to take action against the Match of the Day host.
Lineker, the BBC’s highest-paid presenter, railed at “beyond awful” government plans to stop small boats carrying asylum seekers from arriving on British shores. He later added: “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.”
One BBC presenter said it was “such an egregious breach” of the broadcaster’s standards on impartiality, which were made a top priority by Davie when he took office in 2020. A second insider added: “It’s a massive problem for us. Tim needs to act decisively now. It’s unsustainable.”
Lineker’s colleagues acknowledged that he is unlikely to be fired, but said it was possible that he could be taken off air for a period of time. “Suspend til end of the [football] season? He might walk at that point which would not be a bad thing from Tim’s point of view,” said one person.
Two sources said the matter was complicated by the presence of Richard Sharp, the BBC’s chairman. Sharp remains in post despite explicit links to the Conservative Party, including recent revelations that he helped facilitate a loan guarantee for former prime minister Boris Johnson around the time he was applying for his BBC role. “They haven’t really got a leg to stand on with the Sharp stuff,” said a source.
BBC insiders have said that Lineker will be spoken to over the tweet, though the meeting was yet to take place as of this afternoon UK time. Asked how many “strikes” Lineker had over his social media posts, Davie told BBC News today: “I think the BBC absolutely puts the highest value on impartiality and that’s clearly important to us.”
BBC journalists are held to a higher standard of impartiality than non-news presenters like Lineker, though all have been told that their social media activity “can affect perceptions of the BBC’s impartiality.”
Lineker was deemed to have broken BBC impartiality rules last October after tweeting his views on the Conservative Party accepting donations from Russia. The BBC said Lineker had “additional responsibility” because of his high profile and reminded him that employees should “avoid taking sides on party political issues or political controversies.”
Lineker was defiant on Twitter today, arguing that he was “sticking to politics” and sharing a thread from Tanja Bueltman, a professor at the University of Strathclyde, supporting his Nazi comparison. “I have never known such love and support in my life than I’m getting this morning (England World Cup goals aside, possibly). I want to thank each and every one of you. It means a lot. I’ll continue to try and speak up for those poor souls that have no voice. Cheers all,” he said.
Roger Mosey, the BBC’s former editorial director, said the corporation had been “weak and wobbly” on Lineker, who is paid £1.35M ($1.6M) for hosting sport. He told Radio 4’s Media Show that Lineker’s tweets have “not really been complying with the letter of the law on the guidelines.”
The BBC said: “The BBC has social media guidance, which is published. Individuals who work for us are aware of their responsibilities relating to social media. We have appropriate internal processes in place if required. We would expect Gary to be spoken to and reminded of his responsibilities.”
Deadline has approached Lineker’s representative for comment.
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