Sun. Apr 2nd, 2023

The BBC's recent decision to take Gary Lineker off the air in the midst of a stand-off has come at a high price for the corporation.

Sticking to its guns on impartiality has opened up new fault lines and triggered an exodus of Match of the Day presenters and pundits. Impartiality is at the heart of the corporation's strategy, but the Gary Lineker case has raised questions about the limits of free speech.

Match of the Day to air without presenters or pundits

Ian Wright and Alan Shearer began the exodus from the show this weekend, with Jermaine Jenas and Micah Richards also posting that they too would have said no if they'd been due to appear on the show. Alex Scott has also tweeted, heavily implying she would not present the program in Gary Lineker's place. Now, MOTD has said it will broadcast a show focused on highlights - and without the characteristic punditry. It's an unenviable position to be in.

Impartiality at the heart of the BBC

Director General Tim Davie has declared that impartiality should be at the heart of the corporation. Staff and on-air talent are asked to leave their opinions at the front door. But there is nuance in that. Gary Lineker, a sports presenter not a political presenter or news journalist, has an "additional responsibility" because of his profile. By taking him off air, the BBC has opened itself up to criticisms that it's on the wrong side of free speech arguments.

BBC accused of double standards

The BBC is also being accused of double standards, of caving in to political pressure at a time when its own Conservative-linked chairman remains in post. Richard Sharp has been under pressure for his role in facilitating a loan agreement for Boris Johnson when he was prime minister and not declaring it as a potential conflict of interest in the appointment process when he was under consideration to be chairman of the BBC.

Perceptions matter

The BBC is accused by one side of coming down heavily on Gary Lineker for his anti-government rhetoric, while apparently having a chair in post who is mired in a row and has given money to the Conservatives in the past. One counter argument is that Richard Sharp, as a Board member, isn't involved in editorial matters. Plenty would say, though, neither is Gary Lineker. He has no editorial say on air about politics. Sport is his thing - and as a sports presenter, the BBC today called him "second to none". But no longer - this weekend anyway - for the BBC.

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