I’ve just watched a recording of this week’s BBC Question Time, a Thursday evening tv show that assembles a few people who can speak about whatever subjects the audience (both in the studio and having submitted questions beforehand) think are newsworthy. It doesn’t matter if they know nothing provided they can speak convincingly.
Gary Lineker is an ex-English football player who transitioned seamlessly into the profession of sports presenter. He’s articulate, witty, and universally liked. Well, pretty-much. He tweets about issues affecting the disadvantaged, i.e. those without a voice, who battle against a political and social system set up to deny them often basic human rights. He tweets about politics.
Some of his latest tweets mentioned the UK Conservative (right wing) government’s proposed law to prohibit people claiming asylum if they enter the country using any illegal means, with a policy to then deport them to another country without hearing any asylum claim. Crucially, when they are deported the UK will bar them from ever again applying for asylum.
Now of course this ignores the United Kingdom’s international legal obligations to treat asylum seekers fairly. And it implicitly defines ‘illegal’ as whatever the government says it is. And it makes things legal in this country that will be frowned upon by other more tolerant countries, and ignores the people who drew up our once world-class democracy.
Gary Lineker works for the BBC. His contract is as a freelancer so his political views are irrelevant when it comes to what he says outside work, a fact established as far back as 2016 after one of his Brexit tweets. But neither the assembled Question Time panel nor the chair (who also works for the BBC) mentioned this, or even alluded to it. Instead, speculation and opinion were allowed to muddy the waters. I’m certain the producers of the show would have the facts to hand, but to stifle the question at the outset wouldn’t have been as entertaining would it.
If he was a political journalist the rules would be different. But he’s not.
So what did he say when accused of having inflammatory views?
“There is no huge influx. 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, and I’m out of order?”
The right wing backlash was immediate, from government ministers to the right-wing press. It actually surprised me how many people from all parts of the political spectrum espouse the concept of free speech for everyone whilst making it plain that Mr Lineker isn’t entitled to any.
And so, because the right wing now runs the BBC, the BBC told him that he can not resume his broadcasting duties until the matter is resolved. It “decided that he will step back from presenting Match of the Day until we’ve got an agreed and clear position on his use of social media”.
There was a clear position, a precedent set in 2016 after his Brexit tweets, but the BBC ignored it this week.
And all of his colleagues, and everyone conceivably able to present, when asked to step into his shoes, declined. Because that’s the right thing to do. (More here).