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Gary Lineker takes a step back from ‘Match of the Day’, inspiring BBC boycott



LONDON — There is only one topic of feverish conversation devouring the UK this weekend: football. But it’s not what happens between two rival teams on the pitch that makes a splash.

Instead, it’s a fierce debate over free speech, fairness and a government immigration bill, which apparently pitted two hugely popular British institutions – the public broadcaster BBC and football, including its most famous presenters and commentators – against each other.

Several BBC TV and radio sports programs were halted over the weekend as presenters, football stars and commentators boycotted the broadcaster, including its beloved Saturday night sports show, ‘Match of the Day – which has been recognized by the Guinness World Records as the longest-running football television show in history.

It started when the UK government this week offered to send almost all asylum seekers arriving on small boats across the English Channel back to their countries of origin or to a “safe third country”, such as Rwanda. The bill has been criticized by rights groups and the United Nations has described it as a “clear breach” of international law.

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Among the critics was the former England football captain turned TV star Gary Lineker, who hosts “Match of the Day” – which describes itself as “the most famous football show in the world” and is watched by millions.

Lineker denounced the government’s proposal as an “immeasurably cruel policy directed against the most vulnerable”, in a Tweeter Tuesday, which compared the government’s language to that used “by Germany in the 1930s”.

It has prompted reactions from both sides of the political spectrum. A lot urged him to stay out of politics and stick to football, while others defended it as the moral conscience of the people.

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Conservative politicians criticized Lineker’s tweet, and his employer, the BBC, came under pressure from right-wing commentators to punish him.

The diffuser one of the most trusted news sources and a producer of some of the nation’s most popular television entertainment – is publicly funded and has strict impartiality and social media guidelines for its working staff in information, which prevents them from expressing opinions on controversial subjects.

After days of pressure, the BBC said on Friday that Lineker’s social media activity was in fact “a breach” of its guidelines, and that Lineker would therefore be “Stand back from presenting Match of the Day until we have an agreed and clear stance on his use of social media.”

Lineker’s other secondary hosts and commentators said they would not appear on ‘Match of the Day’ in ‘solidarity’ with Lineker, and fans began urging players not to give interviews after -game at the BBC.

The BBC was forced to announce that it would broadcast “Match of the Day” in a minimalist format, without studio presenters or pundits. The boycott also extended to other BBC TV and radio sports programming, resulting in hours of last-minute filming, the BBC reported.

On Twitter, the hashtags #ImWithGary and #BoycottBBC were both trending on Saturday as people vowed to boycott the show, and a petition to reinstate Lineker has so far garnered nearly 180,000 signatures.

The British opposition Labor Party has called the BBC’s decision is “cowardly” and “an attack on freedom of expression”, while the National Union of Journalists described it as a “massive personal objective”, adding that “so giving in to sustained political pressure is as senseless as it is dangerous”. ”

The BBC, which denies succumbing to political pressure, did not respond to a Washington Post request for comment.

The general mood in the BBC newsroom on Friday night was shocking, according to a reporter who worked there, who agreed to speak candidly about his workplace on condition of anonymity.

The reporter joked that they would take their BBC badges off when they left the building for the day – a reference to Lineker’s popularity with much of the public and the controversy with which the row became across Britain.

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Employee use of social media, fairness, and expression of opinions have regularly sparked controversy and debate, including at the Washington Post.

However, many Lineker supporters have also argued that the BBC’s impartiality guidelines are aimed at employees working in news, rather than pundits or sports presenters. The BBC has previously argued that, as one of the BBC’s most prominent stars, Lineker was seen as having “an additional responsibility” to the BBC.

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British press pundit and former editor Alan Rusbridger told The Post on Saturday that the focus on Lineker and the BBC was likely a “godsend” for the government, creating a distraction from the underlying problem of their position on immigration and asylum.

“Everyone is arguing about Gary Lineker and not the policies they just announced,” he said.

He added that the BBC had a number of “enemies” ranging from commercial competitors to political parties on all sides and struggled to maintain strict impartiality rules. “There is a culture war here. The BBC is drawn into this because they have a huge output… in music, sports, politics, current affairs.

“There will be something that will offend the culture warriors on one side or the other.”

A former BBC chief executive, Greg Dyke, made a rare public statement on Saturday against the company he ran, saying “the BBC undermined its own credibility”, with the Lineker debacle. “There is a long established precedent at the BBC that if you are an entertainment presenter or a sports presenter you are not bound by those same rules,” he said of the guidelines. corporate impartiality.

However, current BBC Director General Tim Davie backed the broadcaster’s decision, narrative a BBC reporter, “We always seek to take proportionate action, and that’s what we did.”

Lineker, who has already opened his home to at least two refugees, has been a vocal critic of the government on asylum issues and has been reprimanded by the BBC in the past. He has yet to publicly comment on his sanction, and his representatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Post.

However, earlier in the week he tweeted his thanks to the supporters. “I want to thank each of you. … I will continue to try to speak for these poor souls who have no voice.

Helier Cheung in London contributed to this report.

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