In it’s fixture with Gary Lineker, the BBC seems to be allowing the ex-footballer to referee his own game. Ever since fellow BBC sports staff walked out of Match of the Day in support of the presenter last March following his tweet saying the government’s language over immigration was like ‘1930s Germany’, Linker has held the upper hand.
New social media rules for BBC staff were created around him. Still, he managed to break them last week by retweeting a call for the Israeli football team to be boycotted. Ironically enough the idea of wanting to boycott Jews felt particularly ‘1930s Germany’.
There was enough of a fuss that he deleted the tweet. He let it be known that he had retweeted it in error, having mistakenly thought it was news. That the BBC seems to have swallowed this and repeated it to various newspaper outlets surely deserves a red card. They are taking us all for chumps.
Lineker’s tweets and likes are becoming increasingly strident in their pro-Palestine stance – all of which speaks of a man who no longer believes he has to play by the rules. Either he broke BBC guidelines by not reading and assessing what he was putting on his social media account or he did read it and genuinely wanted to say that he believed a country whose games he will be commentating on had no place in world football because it is fighting a defensive war against a terrorist organisation.
Any other person would have been sent off long ago. Bizarrely, at least two BBC employees (that I know of) have faced disciplinary procedures for writing on Twitter about the unfairness of Lineker not having to abide by the same rules as everyone else.
In a mainly back-slapping interview in The Guardian (of course, where else?) at the weekend, Lineker played the victim, saying elements of the press were trying to ‘destroy’ him. But in the same interview he contradicted himself – when speaking about the 1930s Germany tweet, he said he had worded it carefully adding: ‘Anything that is slightly borderline political, I put a lot of thought into.’ The only person harming Lineker’s reputation is Lineker himself.
In his woe-is-me interview he continued: ‘How could it be controversial to want peace?’ He added: ‘I just don’t understand it.’ But that is the thing; if he can’t understand why Israel feels it must destroy Hamas for its barbarity on 7th October (which they openly want to repeat), perhaps he really, really shouldn’t be tweeting about it.
If Lineker worked for any other channel he would be free to voice his opinions for his 9m Twitter followers ad nauseum. But British people effectively pay a tax to fund his extortionate BBC salary.
At its best the Beeb still fulfils its remit to educate and inform. I love BBC Sounds, parts of BBC radio, the occasional brilliant drama and comedy. But like many British Jews I cannot watch more than a few minutes of BBC reports on the Israel/Gaza conflict without wanting to throw something at the telly; every report drips with bias, even by veteran journalists who really should know better. The actions of Hamas – which the BBC refused to call a terrorist group – are frequently airbrushed. Why report on them for stealing aid, starting a war, hiding beneath their citizens when you can attack Israel?
As Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer makes clear in her announcement in today’s Telegraph, the BBC’s website and social media accounts will now be the subject of scrutiny by Ofcom because of ‘audience perception that the BBC is not sufficiently impartial is an ongoing issue and it is clear more can be done.’
The same rules should apply to high profile presenters, who are damaging the BBC’s reputation for impartiality. Calls to scrap the BBC License Fee altogether are only growing louder. If the corporation wants to save itself, it needs to remember its core commitment to neutrality, and stop conceding these embarrassing own goals.
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