The BBC has announced football presenter Gary Lineker, who was recently suspended for criticising the UK Government’s asylum seeker policy, will return to air.
The BBC initially said Lineker’s comments breached its impartiality guidelines, but it now plans to review those guidelines.
Here’s what you need to know.
About the BBC
The BBC is the UK’s public broadcaster (similar to the ABC here in Australia). It is primarily funded by taxpayers, but it also makes substantial private revenue (unlike the ABC).
The ABC and the BBC have legal ‘charters’ to be independent of government, and exist to provide an impartial source of news and entertainment, shielded from commercial or political pressures.
Gary Lineker is one of England’s most celebrated ex-footballers. He presents the football program ‘Match of the Day’ on the BBC.
Lineker has long been outspoken on politics. Last week, he criticised the UK Government’s new policy which includes stronger powers to deport asylum seekers without assessing their claims.
He called the policy “immeasurably cruel” and said the Government’s language was “not dissimilar to that used by [Nazi] Germany in the 30s”.
The BBC issued a statement calling Lineker’s comments “a breach of our guidelines” and warning him to “keep well away from taking sides on party political issues or political controversies”.
Lineker was stood down from ‘Match of the Day’. The BBC said he would remain off air “until we’ve got an agreed and clear position on his use of social media”.
The BBC’s announcement triggered a significant backlash. All of Lineker’s ‘Match of the Day’ co-hosts announced they would not appear on the show in solidarity, as did several other BBC sports presenters. The BBC also announced ‘Match of the Day’ would not conduct player interviews after several players suggested they would refuse to participate in them.
The decision was also criticised by the Opposition Labour Party and several prominent TV presenters including conservatives Piers Morgan and Jeremy Clarkson.
Many critics of the decision accused the BBC of having a ‘double standard’ and a conservative bias.
The BBC’s Chair Richard Sharp donated large sums of money to the governing Conservative Party. BBC’s Director-General Tim Davie also once stood for a local council election as a Conservative.
On Monday, the BBC said it would return Lineker to ‘Match of the Day’ but denied it had backed down.
The BBC now plans an ‘independent review’ of its social media policies for employees.
Lineker tweeted the week had been “difficult… [but] it simply doesn’t compare to having to flee your home from persecution or war to seek refuge in a land far away. It’s heartwarming to have seen the empathy towards their plight from so many of you.”