More coverage disruptions at BBC as Lineker crisis deepens
LONDON — The BBC’s sports coverage faced a second day of severe disruptions Sunday as dozens of staff refused to work in solidarity with top soccer host Gary Lineker, who was suspended by the broadcaster after he tweeted criticism of the British government’s asylum policy.
Pressure was mounting on the BBC to resolve the crisis, with growing calls for its bosses to step down over allegations of political bias and suppressing free speech.
The BBC suspended Lineker, one of English soccer’s most lauded players and the corporation’s highest-paid presenter, on Friday after he tweeted a criticism of the U.K. government’s new migration policy and compared its language about migrants to that used in Nazi Germany.
He was referring to the Conservative government’s plans to stop migrants from arriving in small boats on U.K. shores by introducing tough new laws that would detain asylum seekers, deport them and ban them from ever re-entering the U.K.
Immigration and “taking back control” of Britain’s borders has been a hot-button issue in the U.K. since the 2016 Brexit referendum, and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has made stopping the English Channel migrant crossings one of his top priorities. But his plans have drawn swift condemnation from the U.N.’s refugee agency and many rights groups, which call the policies unethical and unworkable.
Lineker’s suspension has triggered a huge backlash, and many of the BBC’s sports presenters and reporters walked out of their jobs Saturday in support of the presenter.
As a result, several daytime soccer shows were pulled at the last minute and “Match of the Day,” a popular late-night program showing highlights of Premier League games that day and regarded as something of a British institution since the 1960s, aired with no commentary and only featured shortened footage. Usually lasting around an hour and a half, Saturday’s “Match of the Day” only aired for 20 minutes.
No presenters are expected to accompany Sunday’s coverage of the Women’s Super League and “Match of the Day 2.”
Tim Davie, the BBC’s director-general, apologized for the disruption.
“It’s been a difficult day and I’m sorry that audiences have been affected and they haven’t got the programming,” Davie said on Saturday. “We are working very hard to resolve the situation and make sure that we get output back on air.”
Lineker, 62, is one of Britain’s most influential media figures and was paid 1.35 million pounds ($1.6 million) by the BBC last year.
One of England’s greatest strikers with 48 goals in 80 international appearances, he was a household name in Britain even before he became chief “Match of the Day” presenter in 1999.
The controversy began with a tweet on Tuesday from Lineker’s account describing the government’s plan to detain and deport migrants arriving by boat as “an immeasurably cruel policy directed at the most vulnerable people in language that is not dissimilar to that used by Germany in the 30s.”
The Conservative government called Lineker’s Nazi comparison offensive and unacceptable, and some lawmakers said he should be fired.
It was the latest controversy over the role of the 100-year-old BBC, which is funded by a license fee paid by all households with a television.
The broadcaster’s neutrality came under recent scrutiny over revelations that its chairman, Richard Sharp – a Conservative Party donor – helped arrange a loan for then Prime Minister Boris Johnson in 2021, weeks before he was appointed to the BBC post on the government’s recommendation.
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